Thursday, May 12, 2016

4.71. That Dragon, Deathwing

10,000 years into the past, Neltharion goes rogue,
Well of Eternity

Grains Through The Hourglass

Patch 4.3: Hour of Twilight was released to the World of Warcraft community on Nov 29th, 2011. It was an enormous patch. Three new heroic-only dungeons and a new raid. Transmogrification. Void Storage. An overhauled Darkmoon Faire. Legendary daggers for Rogues.

...and a little thing Blizzard called "LFR."

The fork stabbed in. We would not go down without a fight.

Blizzard carefully stitched End Time (the future), Well of Eternity (the past), and Hour of Twilight (the present) together so that players running the three dungeons would end where the raid began: Wyrmrest Temple. Our first night in Dragon Soul was Dec 2nd, 2011, entering the instance to witness a siege already in progress. The sky was filled with all manner of drakes blanketing the surface of Dragonblight with flame, while empowered earthen elementals emerged from twilight portals freshly ripped open. We cut these elementals down, working our way toward the first boss.

Morchok bore the familiar humanoid-mountain shape of a creature that could have been a distant relative of Lord Rhyolith. If fire burned within him at one time, however, those fires had long since died out. The burning glow of red hot lava was replaced with a deep violet color that complemented this walking mass, and he ran large, clumsy boulders through the strands of his phototrophic beard.

The encounter was a standard tank-and-spank, so Blain and Amatsu took turns eating stacks of Crush Armor. Red globes called Resonating Crystals spawned toward the outer edges of the attack zone, latching on to players and forcing them to converge in anticipation of soaking AoE damage. Occasionally, Morchok produced massive rock fragments along the perimeter of the fight. Then, Black Blood of the Earth oozed out from under our feet. We sped towards those fallen fragments and used them as a line-of-sight defense, repeating this process until he collapsed in a pile of lifeless boulders and rubble.

Next on the hit list was Warlord Zon'ozz. The raid descended into a fleshy, tentacled pit that jutted out from the surface of Dragonblight near the base of Wrymrest Temple. Zon'ozz was a nightmarish lobster-humanoid mix, invoking visions of General Vezax from the depths of Ulduar. An unmistakable servant of the old gods, Zon'ozz quickly became known as the "ping-pong" boss.

The encounter's core mechanic involved an orb called Void of the Unmasking. This orb needed to be bounced back and forth between several groups in the raid (melee and ranged were the obvious choices), delivering increasing damage with each impact. The key to both survival and victory was keeping the orb on our teams as long as possible. When the healers could no longer withstand the damage output, we lobbed the orb back to Zon'ozz himself. It struck the boss, weakening and enraging him, allowing us to blow our cooldowns and concentrate both damage and healing throughout the tantrum.

Blain coordinated the movement of the teams responsible for bouncing the orb. After several attempts, Zon'ozz was dead...along with a huge portion of the raid, unable to withstand his final tantrum. On the one hand, new content should have been challenging. On the other, I stood amongst a roster of players geared nearly head-to-toe in heroic Firelands gear. A 25-Man normal should not have been cutting it this closely, no matter how bizarre the mechanic. If you know the drill, you go through the motions, the boss dies. We knew the drill, we were going through the motions...and nearly all of us were dying.

Not at all comforting.

Mature and fellow DoDers defeat Archbishop Benedictus
at the conclusion of the new heroic dungeons,
Hour of Twilight 

Taste the Rainbow

The old gods were not done assailing us yet. Another creature of insanity blocked our way: Yor'sahj the Unsleeping. Yor'shaj was a void beast with long, octopus-like appendages and razor-sharp teeth exposed below its mask. Its armor style seemed Uldum-inspired; coppers, deep maroons, purples -- all fashioned into beveled shapes along its golden edges. Beautifully symmetrical and ornate, Yor'shaj's armor was a contradiction to the tentacled horror it protected.

The encounter began as any other tank-and-spank, but Yor'shaj soon brought multicolored globules of slime to the table, spawning towards the outer circumference of his underground domain. Each spawn constituted a set of three different colored oozes; Yor'shaj had a total of six to choose from. The rainbow of oozes worked to thwart us in clever, contradictory ways.

Purple caused heals to detonate after reaching five stacks, while green caused proximity damage to players standing near one another. Yellow empowered both Yor'shaj and the raid with faster, more significant attacks, and red caused us to take increased damage the further away from the boss we stood. Some oozes even produced new enemies: blue summoned mana voids, leeching mana from the casters and healers; black summoned Forgotten Ones that fixated on the raid and had to be AoE'd down.

While working through most combinations of oozes was trivial, others sets brought great pain and suffering upon the land...and the raid. Most notably, a spawn of green (don't group up!), red (group up near the boss!) and yellow (everything does more damage!) was particularly torturous. Each attempt spawned them in new, random orders. Early green/red/yellow spawns would wipe us quickly, freeing us to restart our attempt with haste. Late green/red/yellow spawns would turn an otherwise clean attempt into a wash, wasting precious time. We filled the better part of an hour on Yor'shaj before he met his deserved end, but were still on track to complete half of Dragon Soul by the night's end.

From here, we left the battle at Wrymrest Temple, and flew (via red aspect escort) to Malygos' domain, The Eye of Eternity. This time, no great blue aspect gone mad awaited us. In his place stood a single female orc, waiting to deliver our doom. The moment I saw lightning crackle off those instantly recognizable lionhead shoulder pieces, I knew we were up against a Shaman. Hagara was draped in a replica of Ten Storms off-pieces, mixed with a "wolf-head" helm synonymous with a shaman as far back as Warcraft II. Each hand clutched its own axe, and each axe bore the bright white glow of a Frostbrand effect, glimmering from snowflakes that fell slowly from each blade.

"I guess we get an ice phase first, eh?"

Hagara was divided into three phases: a main phase, and two enchantment phases (lighting and ice). Preparing for the appropriate phase involved a single step: noting the visual effect applied to her weapons. If snowflakes fell, an ice phase was due, but jagged streaks of electricity warranted preparation for a lightning phase.

While in her main phase, various players would be marked and frozen solid, requiring the team to break their incapacitated partners free. Focused attacks came in fifteen second intervals, locking Haraga in place while she swung her axes in a violent blur. Both Shattered Ice and Ice Lance worked to slow the raid's pace down, each constituting various degrees of damage.

In ice phase, Hagara protected herself with an impenetrable Water Shield while waves of ice chased the raid in a clockwise direction. To shut her down, the raid rushed to the outer edge of the platform, positioned themselves between the rotating waves, and destroyed their source: frozen crystals along four equidistant points. All this, while dodging bouts of falling ice, kept the raid occupied as Hagara mocked us safely from afar.

Ice phase caused much death amid its clockwork chaos. Many attempts ended poorly due to deaths in a phase dragged out far too long.

DoD barely pulls off a kill of Hagara
on the first night of raiding in 4.3,
Dragon Soul


Lightning phase wasn't much better. The same water shield protected Hagara, but this time the raid aimed to blow it apart. To do so, the roster formed a chain that conducted lightning from the outer edges into her protected area in the center, blasting the shield away and stunning the orc, leaving her vulnerable to a burst of damage. In order to form this living lightning rod, we first had to defeat a spawned Lightning Elemental, ensuring the creature was killed near a conductor. Wasting one by killing it in the wrong spot was a huge loss, as this was our only opportunity for a damage boost against the orc shaman.

Though the mechanics of the fight were relatively straightforward, the tuning was such that any excess time spent in ice or lightning phases seriously impacted our ability to beat Hagara. After polishing both phases, the remainder of attempts ended with Hagara enraging, slaughtering the roster in a span of several seconds. Every possible trick had to be pulled in order to squeeze out the last remaining points of health.

When we finally bested Hagara, it was during one such enrage. Players with the highest aggro frantically kited her in an attempt to tack on desperately needed seconds -- just enough to see her through. The "Siege of Wyrmrest Temple" achievement flashed up on our screens to indicate our arrival at the 50% mark. There were only seven of us alive.

"I may suck at math, but our heroic gear isn't going to sustain this."


We returned to Dragon Soul for our second night of work on Sunday, Dec. 4th. For our fifth encounter, we ascended Wyrmrest Temple and cleared numerous whelps and drakes that guarded the perimeter of the tower's apex. Then, we positioned ourselves in a small group only inches from the lip of the temple's edge, faced north, and awaited the arrival of a dragon.

The fight operated much like Algalon's Big Bang of Ulduar fame...though it borrowed a bit of flavor from the Majordomo Staghelm fight, too. Ultraxion was a twilight, like Valiona and Theralion, two tiers earlier. And, like Valiona and Theralion, his realm played an important role: we would have to fight him in the twilight realm for the entirety of the encounter. Most of us would. A select few, however, would have to step out. Who and when would be determined by Ultraxion's abilities.

Hour of Twilight was the first, which hit us every 45 seconds. All but three of us needed to click our new "Heroic Will" buttons in order to shift out and survive the blast. Those three players that remained blew whatever cooldowns were necessary to survive the onslaught of shadow radiation Ultraxion bombarded them with. Juxtaposed with those 45 second intervals were debuffs of Fading Light, applied to the current tank and several other random players. Those debuffs varied between 5 and 10 seconds in duration, demanding the afflicted's attention in order to gauge the appropriate time to click Heroic Will. Eating a Fading Light in the twilight realm meant instant death -- there was no negotiating. If you were fading from the light, you had to "click out."

This was the Ultraxion test: deal with the staggered swapping in and out of the twilight realm, ensure soakers that remained had the tools to withstand Hour of Twilight, and burn that enormous purple dragon as fast as possible.

Again, and again, and again, we smashed our faces against the Ultraxion wall. Our players bore the most powerful heroic weapons and armor in the game (at the release of the patch) -- the result of our successes in Firelands. It didn't matter. The 25-Man raid team pushed out every last ounce of DPS it could muster. But Ultraxion just sat there, laughing, spraying us with twilight bursts, the ever increasing unstable monstrosities coming faster and faster. It felt like we were all wearing greens.

In a moment of wakeful sleep, eyes glazing over after hours of attempts on Ultraxion, I thought back to DoD's initial steps in 25-Man (Normal) Ulduar, and how we dug in with our nails and peeled back those bosses like so much rubbery skin off an orange. The daydream channels flipped, and there was that godforsaken Blizzard development panel, claiming over and over, "Ulduar was still too hard, not enough people got to see it." The constant contradiction infuriated me.

Tuning in Dragon Soul was absolutely out-of-control. A heroically geared raid should have plowed through normal, ready to hit heroics by week two. I didn't see how that was going to happen here. But the raid never gave up. Blain spent the next four hours adjusting, tweaking, moving some people forward, others back (to gain buffs from the aspects), first preferring less healers, then more. I trusted him, but each adjustment just felt like we were rolling dice. The message was clear. Congratulations on all the work you did in heroic Firelands. It doesn't mean a damn thing.

At the top of the fourth hour, we gave Ultraxion one famous last pull. Blain tweaked our positions a bit further, re-synchronized the groups to change at different times, and hoped for the best.

The dragon fell.

"Great. Atramedes all over again."

Exhausted and relieved, we exited Dragon Soul with 5 of 8 defeated, and a grim outlook on what was to come.

1 comment:

Zardian said...

Blaming your gear instead of your players. Having read this blog I'd have expected better, yet I suppose it makes sense.
This is what it always comes down to when you refuse to blame bad players for being bad in the name of a pleasant environment and yet insist on pushing content.