Images of Azeroth - The Outlands: Part 1

The stark desolation surrounding Honor Hold in Hellfire Peninsula.

Looking over the edge of the world in Terrokar Forest.

The Elemental Plateau in Nagrand, probably one of the most
beautiful places in the entire World of Warcraft.

A 360-degree panorama of the Terrokar treetops at Sunset. I think this is one
of my favourite Images of Azeroth landscapes of all time.

As always, click the images to embiggen.



Previewing Patch 4.3: The Make-or-Break Patch

Well, Blizzard has begun releasing new information on Patch 4.3 - the upcoming final major content patch of the Cataclysm expansion  - stoking the fire of the hot-air fuelled Rumour Juggernaut and setting it off to steam-roll all over the realm of common sense.

Confirmed are such new features as Void Storage and the Transmogrifier, as well as three brand new Heroic 5-man dungeons - one of which is a Caverns of Time instance in a "known location". A new raid tier is planned as well, culminating in an epic encounter with the Aspect of Death himself. Blizzard promises that this fight will be "unlike anything you've yet encountered in World of Warcraft".

Reactions seem to be ranging from swaying in rapturous joy to threatening to quit the game. According to the doomsayer-types, these changes are unconscionable and herald the end of WoW - but they say that every Tuesday, so let's just ignore them for now.


Definitely the most talked about feature of 4.3 is the Transmogrifier. Transmogrification will work similarly to reforging and will allow a player to make any current piece of gear cosmetically look like another, similar piece while still retaining the original stats. This means that it will now be possible to defeat Ragnaros in Firelands while wearing armour that looks exactly like the Tier 1 armour that he was killed with back in Molten Core.

It seems that, for the most part, Transmogrification has been greeted with an almost hysterical excitement. It has also been suggested that this pretty much removes all pretence that we, as players, are not doing anything other than playing dress-up with dolls; only with Internet Dragons and Sparkle Ponies.

I finally get to Raid
wearing my favourite shield
I am intrigued by this feature, but not jumping for joy about it. I haven't ever been one to save gear for sentimental reasons, so I don't have an entire wardrobe of old Tier sets to choose from. But then, I'm not the target audience for this particular feature. This is aimed at the long-time players who look back fondly on their favourite gear and wish they could wear it again.

I'm in the minority opinion, I think; a lot of bloggers and long-time players are already planning farming trips to old raids and scouring the old tier armours for the look that they want to rock when this goes live.

This feature, along with it's companion feature Void Storage - which gives players a place to store all the sentimental stuff they want to keep but have no real use for - are very nice nods to the long term players. It isn't going to fundamentally change the game in any way, but it will certainly make Stormwind a more colourful place to hang out.


One change that is definitely going to happen, if it hasn't already been hotfixed in, is a change to the way Tank Threat works and have a Tank able to generate Threat much faster than before. Ghostcrawler wrote a thoughtful post on Tank threat on the Official WoW Blog, but the basic idea is that it isn't fun for a DPS to intentionally do less damage (and therefore less threat) simply to compensate for a lesser geared tank, nor is it fun for someone who is just learning how to tank to worry about raid-geared threat-monsters pulling mobs off just by sneezing at them. As a Damage Dealer, who wants to just stand there and merely do White attacks because you're sitting at 105% Threat?

This change is made necessary because the reality is we live in a world ruled by the Dungeon Finder, and the fact that, for the most part, you don't get to choose who is in your group. The Dungeon Finder does a decent job at ensuring that most of the people are at the same gear level, but when there is a shortage of tanks, which is most of the time, then the group is stuck with what's available. And sometimes that means running through Zul'Aman with a new tank in a whole lot of Blues; forcing the DPS to either do less damage and therefore less threat, or making the Healer go out of his mind healing the group when the DPS inevitably pulls aggro.


In effect, by ramping up Tank threat much quicker to compete with amphetamine-fuelled Burst DPS, Blizzard is taking us back to a more Wrath of the Lich King style of Tanking where, as long as the Tank doesn't do anything stupid, it's very difficult to pull aggro of him.

I think this is a great idea.

Making Threat generation, and therefore Tanking in general, easier is really the only way to finally solve the LFD Tank shortage problem. Actually, it's not even about making it easier; it's about making it more fun and less frustrating. Doing everything right and yet still failing because your group simply outgears you is not fun, and I think causes a lot of people to give up on the idea of Tanking before they have the gear or experience to make it actually enjoyable and not comparable to painful dental procedures.

Of course, as Ghostcrawler mentioned, it is still possible to get undesired attention of a mob by attacking the wrong target or using an Area-of-Effect ability too soon, so the DPS aren't going to have free reign to do whatever they please. Damage classes simply shouldn't be able to pull off a Tank once he's established his initial Threat, as long as the Tank plays correctly.


The biggest mistake that Blizzard has made during the Cataclysm expansion (at least, so far) was releasing only two Heroics with Patch 4.1. The Zandalari Trollroics are good dungeons, both challenging and varied in the encounter design. But after running them non-stop for what seems like an eternity, I am sick to death of them and never want to see another Troll as long as I live. I would like to see Blizzard not make the same mistake with the three new heroics they are talking about for 4.3.

According to the Preview, 4.3 is going to be the final major content patch for the Cataclysm expansion - barring a Sunwell-esque surprise Raid Tier. This means that whatever content is included in 4.3 is going to have to last us until the next expansion is released (rumoured to be tantalizingly named Mists of Pandara). We're going to be running this content for a long time and that means that if Blizzard wants to keep our attention and its subscriber numbers up, these dungeons better be compelling and varied.

If Blizzard goes the route of the Zul'Roics and places these new dungeons in a separate tier, with an increased level of difficulty and better gear, they run the risk of the same level of burnout happening as we're experiencing now. Running the same two dungeons over and over again is an excellent way to remind your subscriber base that it's summer and there are other things to do.

At least with WotLK Heroics there was a much greater variety of dungeons to choose from, ranging from the very difficult Halls of Reflection, the dreaded Oculus or to the simplicy of running Utgarde Keep for the four hundredth time. Could you imagine the backlash from the playerbase if we would have been forced to run nothing but the three ICC heroics for the last 8 months of the expansion?

With things as they are now, I am forced to run Hero-dalari Dungeons in order to cap out my Valor Points every week. There is no respite from these two dungeons unless I want to run twice as many regular heroics - which is impractical to say the least. Give us more variety, Blizzard! Either give us the ability to queue for all the Cataclysm heroics at the same time for the same VP rewards, or give us more dungeons per new Tier. I'm begging you!



The Big Bad. The Final Fight. The Alliterative Aspect of Annihilation.

When 4.3 lands we will finally get our revenge for constantly being murdered randomly as we're trying to level up fishing or grab a screenshot: Deathwing will be the final raid of 4.3 and likely the wrap-up for the Cataclysm storyline.

No details have been released yet, and speculation is running rampant as to what kind of fight this will be, what other bosses we'll fight and where on Azeroth we'll be fighting Deathwing. Nothing about the fight has been hinted at yet, but this blue post claims it will be like nothing we've ever seen before. Exciting stuff!

Entering completely into the realm of wild-eyed speculation for a moment, I envision three different, gated raids for the final raiding tier. The first two would need to be cleared before the third Deathwing-only raid would be unlocked. I think a small, 3 boss Raid set in Deepholm and a larger 8 boss raid in a new location that would, lore-wise, clear the way to the final, epic confrontation with Deathwing.

To date, there has been no mention of a lair or other place that Deathwing hangs out when he's not frying lowbies in the Western Plaguelands, so really, we could be fighting him anywhere. This image implies that we'll be fighting him on top of a mountain somewhere, but I had my way I'd want to fight Deathwing right here:

Varian's front porch would make for a great raid room. Although
Deathwing would need to knock down a bit of stuff first.
Why does Deathwing need to have a lair, anyway? Isn't he randomly flying around the world torching everything? The first step in any Deathwing encounter, in my opinion, should be to find him out in the world and attack him there, rather than doing the same ol' thing of assembling a raid at the entrance to a cave where [Insert Loot PiƱata Name Here] is conveniently waiting to be killed and give up his stuff.

In the encounter that I would design, each week a Raid Instance portal would appear in a random zone throughout Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor, forcing people out of the capital cities on Tuesday morning to look for the thing. Once found, the standard Meeting Stone would be there to help summon the rest of your raid. The coolest thing about doing this is that the actual terrain that the Raid would fight Deathwing on (at least for Phase One & Two - keep reading) would change every time. But from a lore perspective, it would tie everything together: Varian or Garrosh have had enough of this dragon destroying everything and devise a cunning plan to stop him.

Here's how I would design an epic fight to take out Deathwing:

Phase One: Capturing Deathwing
After finding the portal and zoning into an instanced version of whatever zone the portal happens to be in, the Raid comes across Varian or Garrosh and a small group of Battle Mages who have devised a way to knock Deathwing out of the air and hold him. This will require the raid to defend the Battle Mages against waves of summoned Fire Elementals (or something similar) while dodging Deathwing's fire breath from above. The mechanics of this fight could work similarly to Magmaw in the actual chaining. Regardless, this phase is fairly short.

Phase Two: On the Ground.
The Battle Mages manage to ground him, but as he's just too powerful they cannot hold him for long. The Raid would fight a partially subdued Deathwing on the ground and have to deal with all the tricks that a very pissed off dragon in command of the element of Earth can possibly think up. Giant Earth Elemental adds that need to be tanked, insta-kill pits opening up beneath people's feet and giant impaling spikes are some of the possibilities, in addition to having to deal with random, devastating flame breath attacks, claws and tail swipes.

Phase Three: In the Air

At some point, either at a certain percentage of health or after a certain amount of time, Deathwing breaks his bonds and begins to take flight. The raid have to use a mechanic (ropes, magic catapults, jetpacks - really endless possibilities here) to climb on his back before he takes off. While he's flying, he'll call a couple of Black Dragonflight lieutenants to kill the pests on his back and periodically try to knock the raid off by yawing either left or right. When he does this, the Raid will need to grab on to pieces of Deathwing's armour to avoid falling off and plummeting to a very sticky death.

At the same time the raid is dealing with the two dragon lieutenants, they will also need to do damage and destroy Deathwing's armour plates so that he will be vulnerable when he lands. The most interesting aspect of this idea is that the Raid will be destroying the very thing that they need to grab on to so as not to fall off, making management of how much armour to destroy critical - especially because each plate that is destroyed will expose Deathwing's molten insides which, of course, would not be wise to stand in.

Phase Four: Home to Roost
Once the Dragons are killed, Deathwing will reach his destination: Stormwind or Orgrimmar, depending on faction. There would be a short cinematic showing Deathwing landing and destroying the Stormwind Citadel courtyard. A whole legion of Dragonkin will teleport in and keep Varian Wrynn and the Stormwind Guards occupied while the raid has to deal with the boss.

This would be an all-out fight to the death. The Raid would first need to finish whatever armour is left over from Phase 3. Once that is completely gone, Deathwing becomes a dragon of pure flame and the fight really begins.

I'd like to think that Blizzard would pull out all the stops with this fight and include new, never-been-done-before mechanics that are too awesome to imagine or speculate on. I think that as far as previous Raid encounters go, doing something like this would be incredibly epic and tie together all the different ideas that Blizzard introduced in Cataclysm nicely. I am very excited about fighting and killing Deathwing, and I really hope that the fight lives up to the sheer epic potential of fighting a foe of this magnitude.


There is a lot riding on Patch 4.3. For whatever reason, the entire Cataclysm expansion has been met with an overwhelming wave of indifference and at times outright hostility from the player base - particularly the long-term players. It seems clear that the final patch of this expansion will make or break Cataclysm's legacy.

There is a feeling among a lot of players, although I personally am not one of them, that World of Warcraft has lost its way. And with new and exciting competition either upcoming or already on the market, Blizzard needs to end this expansion with something fresh and exciting to recapture the faith of the masses and remind everyone why World of Warcraft is still worth caring about.


Crit by Real Life

There hasn't been much activity on Battle Medic recently, as I'm sure my more dedicated readers (both of you) will have noticed. Real Life has been taking it's toll over the past few weeks, leaving very little time to get into the mental space I need to actually get some writing done.

On the other hand, I have been able to play a lot the past ten days - gorging myself on the game while my wife and the Dwarfling are away visiting family. I have a bunch of new topics that I want to write about, several posts that are sitting half-completed and a dizzying number of projects that are drifting through limbo.

I haven't forgotten the blog, nor have I abandoned it. New posts are coming.


This Week In Raiding: Steady On

"Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress." - Mohandas Gandhi
Being at the forefront of any raid groups advancement - charging blindly into the unknown, so to speak - is by its very nature going to be fraught with setbacks and disappointments. Wipes happen, stress builds up and nerves get frayed regardless of whether the group is a world class progression guild or a more casual one. It's called progression because you're moving forward into new and dangerous territory and success is by no means assured.

This week our progression results were a mixed bag of uplifting positives counter-balanced by maddeningly incomprehensible setbacks.

Mountain Top has made some steady, if unspectacular headway in Firelands to this point, but we're moving slower that some people feel we should be, and nerves are getting frayed. It's less the pace of getting bosses down - 3/7 with only two nights of raiding per week isn't bad at all - but I think that it has more to do with how long it seems to take us to figure out the mechanics of each new fight. It seems as if our attempts at a new boss get only so far and just stall out.

This week we pulled Alysrazor (pronounced a-LISS-rah-zor. Get it right) for the first time, and she schooled us on the true meaning of the word futile. Then she went on to further instruct us on all its synonyms: The words abortive, ineffectual, fruitless and unsuccessful all come to mind to describe our night.

We spent the whole of Thursdays raid working on Ragnaros's pet Firechicken to no effect, and by the end tempers were starting to run a bit thin. The tanks were getting frustrated with their mechanics and wanted to call it, the healers were frustrated with being unable to work out how to split themselves up properly and wanted to keep working on it, whilst the DPS were arguing about who, if anyone, should grab feathers and fly.

I always can tell when morale is sinking when the cupcake jokes stop. In the end we called the raid early and agreed to come at it fresh next week in the hopes that a little distance and perspective will help.
"If you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress." - Barack Obama
Once a progression fight clicks, on the other hand, we don't regress. I wrote a few weeks ago of our struggles with Shannox the Rat-bastard and how we seemingly just couldn't get him down. Well, since then we've killed him with ease in one or two attempts each time we've faced him. It feels like all at once, as a unit, the fight just clicked, and suddenly it was as easy as selling beer at a Dwarven bacon-eating festival.

Beth'tilac has also been handled cleanly since we got her down for the first time. My only complaint with her is that she always drops Holy Paladin gear that our other Holy Paladin always gets. Spider Matron favouritism is the worst kind. And I like her shield, too.

The Gatekeeper is dead, huzzah.
We got our third Firelands boss down this week as well, with Baleroc meeting his end for the first time and marking our first three-kill night for this tier. We pulled him for the first time the previous week, and like Alysrazor this week, he gave us fits while we learned the fight.

If you are unfamiliar with the fight, Baleroc is an encounter where healer coordination is vital. The healers are attempting to keep up with ever increasing tank heal pools and incoming damage. This is done by healing people affected by Torment and gaining stacks of Vital Spark, which turns into the buff Vital Flame which boosts a heal cast on the tank by 5% per stack. It's crucial that all the healers get as many stacks as possible, and so it's incredibly important to know who is healing what and when.

It took us almost two whole nights of working on Baleroc until we got him figured out (which from the perspective of a week later, isn't bad at all, really).

In the end, what really made the difference is having a dedicated Healer channel in Mumble so that would could coordinate our rotation without the DPS and Tanks talking over us. It helped immensely, and within two pulls of changing channels Baleroc fell over dead and we were standing on his crotch taking a screenshot.


Mountain Top's progression through Firelands has been slower than other guilds out there, to be sure, but it's been steady. Each raid night brings us closer to figuring out whichever boss we happen to be working on, and there is a great feeling on confidence in the team, even though frustration got the better of us on Alysrazor last week. We're all working hard and waiting for that wonderful click.

Despite our rather casual schedule and the setbacks that we've had, our raid team is coming together really nicely. Certainly one bad night isn't going to stop us. There is a great feeling of inevitability that it's only a matter of time before we're taking a screenshot while standing in Ragnaros's crotch - if he had legs.