|One of many opinions on Ensidia's exploiting|
The Lich King encounter (source: Allakhazam)
Apples to OrangesWeeks before Descendants of Draenor began to scratch the surface of the final encounter in Icecrown Citadel, it was common knowledge that The Lich King had already been defeated. The victor? Blood Legion...but the recognition they received was muted, for it was the 10-Man version they had scored a world-first of -- something other hardcore raiding guilds paid little attention to. Guilds clamoring for a world-first title were instead pouring their effort into a 25-Man defeat. Two days after Blood Legion's 10-Man clear, the European guild Paragon wrapped up the 25-Man version, and went on to defeat Ensidia by clinching the world first 25-Man heroic clear, even though Ensidia had wasted Arthas first. Details leaked out about Ensidia's dubious strategy, forcing Blizzard to strip them of their title. While the WoW media was busy covering the drama between Ensidia and Blizzard, debate raged further on where the line should be drawn between "clever use of game mechanics" and "full-on exploit". All eyes and attention were on them, and Blood Legion's "world first" quickly fell out of the limelight.
Granted, only nine guilds in the world had defeated the Lich King in 25-Man heroic by this point -- Arthas was far from what even the seasoned raider would call "trivial". One thing was certain: WoW Progress's landing page, listing the world-first guilds who had put Arthas in his place was a short list, and one in which our resident server's celebrity guild was nowhere to be seen. A viewer had to click deeper into WoW Progress or GuildOx to determine what 10-Man standings existed. It was quite clear that the attention was focused squarely on 25. Players certainly cared about 10s, but the weight they held from a competitive standpoint still had little credibility. This argument was further backed by Blood Legion's continuing delay to wrap up their own 25-Man heroic kill of Lich King. The difference between Paragon's kill and Blood Legion's eventual one wasn't a matter of hours or even days...it was weeks.
It was pointless to compare the 10 to the 25. But that didn't stop players from doing it.
Time and time again, each boss encounter was defeated first and foremost in its 10-Man iteration, sometimes well before its big brother, and was easily explained. Blizzard never intended for 10s to be a challenge; at one point during Wrath, they even debated leaving the 10-Man heroic mode completely out. Yet in the face of the 10-Man being a non-factor, complaints persisted:
"10's are more difficult!"
"There's less room for error!"
"They need to be nerfed!"
So the nerfs continued to flood in. Marrowgar became less touchy between transitions. Saurfang refrained from casting Blood Nova on Mark of the Fallen Champion targets. Sindragosa's instability debuff was decreased in potency. Changes to Festergut. Changes to Rotface. Changes. Changes. Changes, so that players' concerns were sated. No member of Descendants of Draenor ever voiced such a concern throughout our entire career in Wrath of the Lich King. Because there was no need to. There was no concern.
Raiding in Wrath of the Lich King had finally reached the right balance. We were proof.
Many of us had first-hand experience with the raids of yore, and the pains and struggles of those days were still fresh in our memories. Our greatest struggles thus far, bosses like Blood Queen Lana'thel, Professor Putricide, Algalon, Yogg-Saron, these bosses didn't hold a candle to the likes of Illidan, Kael'thas Sunstrider, and Lady Vashj. And these bosses weren't even the worst of The Burning Crusade! Cheeseus shared horror stories of the nightmares in Sunwell Plateau, an instance that would've chewed up and spit out so many of these entitled players. But from our own perspective, so many lost weeks on bosses like Magtheridon made Yogg-Saron look like a child's plaything. Boo hoo, it took you an entire weekend to kill one boss? Try months of work on one boss...then we'll talk. But therein lay the problem. It was taking guilds months of work...it just happened to be on bosses that didn't require it.
I'd scan blog posts from guilds throughout that final year of WotLK, chock full of frustrated guild leaders. Months of work wasted on bosses like....Freya?? Sartharion?? It was true. While Descendants of Draenor buckled in to begin work on our first kill of 25-Man Lich King (normal!), there were still guilds that hadn't yet completed Naxxramas.
Even though I felt confident that Blizzard had reached exactly the right balance in Wrath, the overwhelming majority continued to prove me wrong.
|The 25-Man Progression Team poses next to|
The Lich King at the start of the encounter,
DefiledThe Lich King was a three phase fight, connected by two transitions. Arthas brought forminable techniques to the table, so the only way to master them was practice, practice, practice. We began the weekend of March 5th-7th, which primarily consisted of refining our handling of his phase one abilities. Drecca fastened the Lich King in place while Bretthew distracted the swarming army of undead drudge ghouls and shambling horrors clawing their way out of the frozen earth beneath us. DPS wound up slow and steady, taking care to not deploy any area-of-effect abilities that might cause Bretthew's adds to run rampant. Their positioning away from Arthas' was important: at various intervals, a player would become afflicted with Necrotic Plague. While ticking away precious health, healers instinctively wanted to cleanse the disease away, but had to stay their hand. Decursing Necrotic Plague caused the disease to not dissipate, but rather, leap from its target to the next closest. This meant players afflicted with the Plague needed to run quickly from their group, and stand near Bretthew's adds. Then, and only then, could the plague be safely decursed, as it lept from our raid to the undead monstrosities themselves. Turning the Lich King's Necrotic Plague back upon his own undead army was the primary focus of phase one...that, and dealing with blasts of Infest -- shadow damage that not only ate away massive chunks of health, but continued to do so until targeted players had their health topped back off to full. When Arthas' health dropped to 70%, the first transition began.
The Lich King charged to the center of his icy platform, sending out a steady barrage of Remorseless Winter, a constant stream of biting snow that would quickly kill any player in close proximity. Winter had a radius that stretched so far, the raid was forced to the very edges of his platform, our heels inches away from chunks of ice breaking off -- every transition, we risked losing our footing and plummeting to an early death. During this transition, Remorseless Winter was not the only thing that raged. Raging Spirits would spawn, needing to be picked up by tanks quickly, as their tendency was to one-shot whatever they faced. Tanks needed to move quickly in positioning them as to not cause additional strain to the healers, while DPS burned the spirits away as fast as possible. On top of all of this, Ice Spheres would appear from the Lich King, slowly heading towards our position along the jagged edge of that platform. Casters needed to turn their attention to the Spheres quickly; if left alone, they would cause an explosion of enough force to knock handfuls of players clear off the mountain's top. By the end of the first weekend of work, phase one and its subsequent transition was safely behind us.
Mastering phase two, along with its transition, took us well into the third week of March -- its learning curve bent sharply thanks to Defile. A disgusting blackness broiled and bubbled in an enormous circular area beneath unsuspecting players, and it took the concept of "standing in the fire" to a horrific new level. Not only would players standing in Defile suffer enough shadow damage to kill them in mere seconds, the physical act of standing in Defile caused it to grow uncontrollably. This meant that the weakest links in the roster -- the ones with the slowest reflexes -- most certainly held the power to transform an otherwise typical raid encounter into a linchpin. All it took was one wrong person to stand one moment too long in Defile, and a manageable disc of black death transformed into an oozing monstrosity that blanketed the entire platform, devouring us in the process. Defile was relentless and suffered no fools. It was devastatingly swift and turned many of our excellent attempts into instant failures. By all measures, Defile was the mouthbreather's worst nightmare. In order to turn the tables on Defile, we would have to leverage the power of a very special kind of healer.
|Arthas annihilates the 25-Man Progression team|
during an attempt on The Lich King,
Disciplinary ActionAfter scouring reports from World of Logs, one thing became imminently clear: Discipline Priests were becoming the rockstars of the Lich King fight, as their unconventional "bubbling" of players absorbed precious milliseconds of damage at the start of each Defile. Theoretically, lightning fast disc priests could bubble players targeted for Defile, granting those victims a window to escape before the thick black mass multiplied across Arthas' platform. Until this point, we ran with one and only discipline priest: the infamous Neps. This newly uncovered information, however, made a solid case for Lexxii to drop from Holy and adopt a bubbling spec as well. She did so, and as expected, the 25-Man progression team was defiled a little less with each attempt. In learning about the absorbs, we identified other abilities that gave us "room to move" within Defile; I myself was able to pop Anti-Magic Shell to help stave off the blackness.
Soul Reaper forced the tanks to hand Arthas off to one another throughout these phase two attempts, but it was a trivial mechanic to deal with. Far more menacing (other than Defile) was the Val'kyr that the Lich King commanded, plucking various players from the platform and slowly carrying them over the edge of the platform to be dropped helplessly to their doom. The 25-Man progression team prepared for this by prioritizing their positions as close to the center of the platform as possible. This gave us the largest window to burn holes through the Val'kyr before they dropped members of our roster over the edge. Work continued in this manner, coordinating the right positions for tanks to hand the boss off to one another, defile targets racing away from the group, and a sychronized collapse to the center before Val'kyr spawned. From there, it was on to second transition...which was more of the first, save for less room being available near the edges of the platform. Again, Raging Spirits needed to be controlled and burned, while Ice Spheres slowly crept up on us, ready to blast players off the edge if not burned down in time.
After a month and a day of work, the chaos of the Lich King was nearing completion. Phase three pushed the entire raid to its limits. Arthas still leveraged Soul Reaper on the tanks, and he continued to Defile the progression team. Additionally, Vile Spirits were added to the mix: slow moving ghostly apparitions that carried an explosive area-of-effect with them. Vile Spirits were subject to snare effects, so while Drecca and Bretthew maneuvered Arthas around the far edges of the platform, Jemb and Bullshark would ice-trap the center, allowing the AoE frenzy to unleash hell. Ben's Mind Sear, Hellspectral's Howling Blast and Mangetsu's Seed of Corruption quickly turned the Vile Spirit packs into fireworks, detonating safely away from melee perched along the edge. But Arthas still had one more trick up his sleeve.
|The final moments of Descendants of Draenor's|
first kill of The Lich King in 25-Man,
Eve of the Soul HarvestIn one swift motion of his hand, Arthas reached out into the air and grasped nothing, squeezing an invisible neck tightly. I lost control of my death knight, as Mature was lifted up off the ground, choking, and in an instant, I was transported inside the very essence of the runeblade Frostmourne. In this alternate dimension, the ghostly image of Arthas' slain father, King Terenes was locked in eternal combat with a Spirit Warden. This was Arthas' last attempt to defeat us, dividing and conquering through Harvest Soul. I stood alone, separated from the raid, which continued to battle The Lich King on the outside world, and so rushed to Terenes' aid. Mature swung Shadow's Edge, layering the Spirit Warden up with diseases, pummeling him with Scourge Strike, and I watched, waiting for Soul Rip. There. The Warden began channeling a devastating spell, draining King Terenes' spiritual essence; instantly, I fired off a Mind Freeze, and Mature stopped the Spirit Warden's channeling, saving the ghost of Arthas' father. Together, we turned back to the Warden and tore him apart.
In a flash, I was back outside. In the center the platform.
"Move, move! Get out of the center, Spirits spawning!"
The melee and tanks were far off to the edge of the platform, well away from me. I dashed towards The Lich King and resumed the fight, while Mangetsu's Seeds of Corruption flew past Mature's shoulders, igniting the Spirits behind me. Arthas' health was nearing the 10% mark. Like the flash of a supernova, the raid was instantly obliterated. All twenty-five members of the progression raid team lay dead at Arthas' feet as he laughed, preparing to raise us as his own undead army. It was at this moment that Tirion Fordring, who had been frozen solid through the duration of every attempt, finally freed himself with a single blast of holy light, an explosion which shattered Frostmourne in the process. The souls of every man, woman and child that Arthas had desecrated were freed, now enveloping him, trapping him...becoming his own prison. Fordring refused to stand down. Determined to end Arthas' reign, King Terenas II's spirit manifested long enough to cast a spell of Mass Resurrection, and the 25-Man progression team was instantly restored to life, emptying every last attack into what remained of The Lich King.
Descendants of Draenor stood triumphant that day, snapping up our first kill shots as Arthas lay dead at our feet. The once noble paladin, long a slave to his cursed runeblade, was finally put out of his misery on April 11th, 2010. A story that had stretched as far back as 2002 had finally come to an end. But although Arthas' story had concluded, there was still some story left to tell about Descendants of Draenor before turning to the final chapter in our history. As Wrath of the Lich King waned, DoD would dive deep into heroics, drama would continue to unfold between both old and new guildy alike, and a veteran of the guild would make a startling revelation that would shift the course of the guild once more. But before any of these events transpired, Blizzard would do us the honor of kicking things off by revealing their plans for Cataclysm -- plans that can be more accurately described as Blizzard's Third Mistake.
|Descendants of Draenor pose for their|
first kill shot of The Lich King,