Winter has taken on visible form and is sitting outside my window staring at me. The guise it has taken is of a thick blanket of sleepy-eyed mist which is laying over the whole area, and even near distance is fading quickly into impenetrable whiteness. It’s definitely weather for staying inside and finding something warm to do! I’m not sure it makes sense, but that distraction is being provided by a wintry virtual continent and a place called “Icecrown”! Lots of happy posts about patch 3.3 crowding the WoW blogosphere at the moment. Actually the first negative-sounding post I’ve read was just this afternoon after it was linked from WoW.com.
Personally I’m really enjoying 3.3 so far. I wouldn’t say it’s re-ignited my interest in the game or anything dramatic, but it’s certainly made playing more enjoyable. Here are some of the things which stand out.
Gating and difficulty in Icecrown
I’m sure a lot of folks will disagree with me on this one, but I am really enjoying the fact that the new raid has only four bosses available, and no hard modes. My guild went there on Wednesday after waiting around half an hour for additional instances to be launched. First impressions were that it was all Black Temply – it reminded me of the Ashtongue Deathsworn bit you can teleport to after killing Supremus. We spent a while exploring the vendors and watching NPCs fight waves of those skeleton things from Scholomance’s basement (helping out now and then when one got through – that felt suitably heroic). There was a good atmosphere of foreboding and feeling like we were really the first wave of reinforcements setting foot into the villain’s creepy castle.
But returning to the heading topic, the holidays are coming up and life is busy. Trial of the Crusader and heroic Anub’arak have been a draining mix of dull and hard with the requirement not to wipe for the best shinies making even dull farming fights punishingly high-concentration – and no trash or pretty scenery to break up the relentless march from boss to boss. Coming from that environment and with the gear to prove it, Icecrown’s bosses are refreshingly painless. Fun, interesting and new – and we managed to wipe once on the gunship battle due to a bit of a misunderstanding – but above all energising rather than draining.
And there aren’t any world firsts to hear about or guys toting around their shiny frostwyrms or hard-earned exclusive titles. And there aren’t any hard modes to throw ourselves against and worry about group balance and how much time we have to raid this evening. There’s just an inviting new place to explore with friends and have fun doing it.
Oh, and our weekly raid quest on Shadowsong was for Malygos. My druid went with an alts run to do rusty and undergeared (but still impressive, thankyouverymuch) kitty DPS, and I ended up flying around on a hover disk yelling ‘Hoverkitty goes “WHRRR”‘ and feeling generally very pleased with myself.
In a similar vein to the above, I don’t feel that there’s any rush to farm the new emblem items. We did all four bosses and the daily raid quest in about two hours for our maximum weekly haul of Emblems of Frost from raids; the Icecrown 5-mans were an enjoyable adventure that only have to be done once for the Frosty-flavoured emblems; and the new LFG tool and random dungeon rewards makes getting your final two emblems per day a breeze. Farming emblems in 3.2 felt really seriously punishing as you had to do ToC, ToGC, VoA, Onyxia, and the daily heroic to pull in the maximum amount! With the gated content and no new boss in VoA until the new Arena season starts, we can rest easy knowing we’ve got as many emblems as we can without having to sacrifice our enjoyment.
Tier 10 and other items
Despite its lacklustre set bonuses for elemental, tier 10′s looks and distinctive three-tiered colour scheme – and that shoulder animation – make it feel like something to look forward to in the fairly distant future. Conversely, I always felt tier 9 was a depressing and urgent necessity. And there’s elemental badge gear for the first time since The Burning Crusade, including the first mail belt with elemental stats accessible to 10-man raiders since patch 2.4. And did I mention elemental craftables? – which by the way I probably won’t use, but it’s good to feel that there are these options around at last. I’m also reasonably hopeful that the still incomplete Icecrown loot tables will furnish more elementally-inclined items for the 10-man raider.
I was wondering why I was excited by the prospect of the Icecrown 5-man dungeons dropping such high ilevel loot when the same prospect for Trial of the Champion just depressed me. Then I realised it: I actually enjoyed doing the Icecrown instances! My first trip through was with a guild group – some alts, some mains and two of us in off-spec. I was healing. And let me tell you, that is some massively enjoyable content to heal. I had a total blast, an excellent time, even though some of it was very challenging even in my ilevel 245 stuff. I was able to use all my utility totems and all my healing spells, and even had some fun with the new Fire Nova.
The first bosses of Halls of Reflection felt pretty brutal, but we may just have been doing it wrong. I went in the following day on my feral druid and we tried to be more intelligent and careful, but it was still a nightmare. I suspect it’ll be nerfed, as if it was difficult for my guild (we made it OK, but it felt hard), I can’t imagine how painful it could be in a PUG.
Finding for group
On which topic, all my experiences with the LFG tool have been very positive. I had some grim, business-like groups that just pushed through the instance, said “thx” and left, and I’ve had some chatty, friendly groups that also just pushed through the instance, said “thx :)”, and left. Everyone I’ve grouped with has been in really high ilevel gear, but I though that was because my characters were also in very high ilevel gear.
Confident in this assumption and comforted by the knowledge that I wasn’t even attuned to two of the three Icecrown 5-mans, I innocently tried the tool on my rarely played and somewhat undergeared discipline priest.
I couldn’t freakin’ believe it when the loading screen was Forge of Souls.
My group was some other server’s guild premade, all in ToC gear. Nobody said anything except the mage when I asked him for some conjured water (being horribly aware of how much I was going to have to drink). I felt awkward and silly; I had had no idea that my priest’s gear (it’s mostly ilevel 200 epics) was going to put me at risk of getting thrown into Forge of Souls with a group of people who obviously did not think I should have been there yet were apparently unwilling to do anything about it.
We toiled through, me drinking the moment combat ended and trying desperately to catch up to the group before the MT killed himself on the next pull. We got through with no casualties despite my sissy 16k health pool, until the final boss. And sweet chilly adventure surfing penguins that group took a lot of damage. My little dwarf was mashing buttons like a trooper, but I hardly play the poor chap and don’t have the fluidity and grace on him that I do with my shaman. At 20% a void zone thingy spawned on me while I was desperately flash healing the two hunters and I got hit by some nasty random-target nuke thing at the same time. The combined damage was more than my fragile, GCD-locked priest could take and I was pretty much one-shot (well, there were 3 shots, but it took barely longer than a global cooldown). The group finished the boss OK – suddenly they seemed to learn how to stop taking damage – but I was left lying in an embarrassing heap on the floor with nobody able to rez me. They all said “thx” and left, and I ran back through the whole instance to talk to Jaina and hand in my quest… after which I depressingly realised that this made me eligible to be tossed into Pit of Saron by the dungeon tool in future.
But despite this, the tool makes getting a group fast and easy and generally fairly painless. And the fact that you can end up in any random dungeon means that you can do the daily on many alts in the same day and have a different instance each time – which is just fantastic. Combined with the generous Emblem of Triumph and gold rewards from selecting repeated random dungeons, it’s possible to enjoyably gear up an alt without feeling pressured into content you didn’t want to do, and – thanks to the fact that this is the final content patch before the expansion – without feeling like it’s all a waste of time “because that new patch is going to be released in a couple of months anyway”.
I feel motivated to play my alts for the first time in months!
And heirlooms can be sent across factions now. That’s pretty gnarly. I’m almost tempted to start playing on my old horde characters again.
There aren’t any new dailies or anything, right? Well I hope not, because I’m quite enjoying not having to worry about trying them out! I don’t want the game to demand more of my time; I want it to offer me more ways to spend my time enjoyably if I want to. And so far 3.3 seems to be doing that nicely.
I’ve heard a few comparisons between 3.3 and other patches, most of them extolling 3.3 as the best thing evar. I dunno though. I still think patch 3.1 was pretty hard to beat, but it had issues of its own which I think 3.3 has largely avoided so far. So it’s really too early to say.
The story of patch 3.3 is also pretty impressive. Patch 3.2, let’s face it, was horrible from a story point of view. How many argent crusaders and horde heroes did I ruthlessly put to death in that Light-forsaken coliseum anyway? It was just a disaster. And why was the Lich King so happy to let all this haberdashery happen on his front lawn anyway?
That’s the problem I’ve always had with Icecrown, actually – the sense that it doesn’t make sense for the scourge just to be milling about down there and not blowing up the airships above or flowing over into the adjoining areas. Sure, the Wrathgate was a bit of a set back for the Scourge as much as for the Horde and Alliance, but it didn’t seem enough to justify the Lich King staying holed up in his basement watching reruns of Dallas for the next year, and only occasionally popping up in odd places to say “Raar I’m big and bad and will send my minions to kill you one by one then feel silly as they inevitably fail!”
* Be aware that the next paragraph contains some spoilers for Icecrown quests and five-mans. *
Now the combination of that 3.3 trailer, revelations from the Icecrown 5-mans, the Christie Golden book and the Mathias Lehner quest chain really seem to be fit together neatly. I could be wrong here, but my understanding is that the frighteningly devious and cunning monstrosity that was Ner’zhul-the-Lich-King is basically kablammo, gone, annihilated by the fusion between him and Arthas into what is essentially a third entity, or perhaps just Arthas’ victorious nutso dark side. The upshot is that (a) this new Lich King isn’t quite the evil genius that the old one was and (b) he’s been irritatingly held back from exercising his vast and horrible power by his own schizophrenic personality, possibly the “Mathias Lehner” character (though it’s implied both in-game and in the book that Lehner’s gone now). The reason the Undead haven’t rolled over Northrend in an unrelenting wave is as much because of the Lich King’s mental health issues as the heroism and sacrifice of players and their factions.
So yeah, all in all there seems a lot to enjoy in this patch – and all the more so because of the patch that preceded it. It’s restoring some of my joie de jouer in WoW. I wonder though, is that a feeling generally shared by you folks or are there big downers that I’m missing?