Friday, April 17, 2009

Ulduar First Impressions

To preface: it took Blizzard too long to get this new content out the door. Just because I'm about to gush about how much fun I had, that does not let them off the hook for running a skeleton crew on their cash cow (Mixed Metaphors, I choose you!) and only releasing an update every 6 months. They need to step up the development speed pronto (or a real competitor needs to come out).

Now, please proceed to the gushing in an orderly fashion.

We giddily formed up the following raid make-up:

Prot Warrior
Prot Paladin
Unholy DPS DK (me)
Survival Hunter
Fire Mage
Fire Mage
Affliction Warlock
Resto Shaman
Resto Druid
Holy Paladin

It was a very nice mix of buffs, and pretty decently stacked for magic dps (damage and haste buffs from the the shaman, mana regen from the hunter and shaman, +crit debuff from the warlock, +spell debuff damage from me, BoK) and a nice mix of healing types.

We went in mostly blind. The only information we looked up was a list of the boss abilities, to avoid wasting attempts just to find out what the hell was hitting us and read the ability tooltips. As it turned out, this was not much different from going in completely blind.


The instance portal drops you in a large outdoors-looking area with some NPCs under the command of Brann Bronzebeard of the Explorer's League offering you a variety of salvaged vehicles to ride out of their protective bubble and into the heavily-guarded front yard of the Titan Stronghold. When I say heavily-guarded, I mean there are literally hundreds of iron dwarves, metallic giants, freaking gigantic mechanical spiders, and incredibly annoying gyrocopters between you Ulduar's entrance.

In the 10-man version, there are six available vehicles: 2 bikes, 2 siege engines, and 2 demolishers (catapults). Everything has 2 seats: pilot and passenger, but the bike passenger can't do anything. Each seat has it's own set of independent controls, and the pilots work in tandem with their passengers. For instance, the demolisher pilot aims and fires the catapult, but the passenger decides what ammo to load into the catapult: whether that involves using a hook to gather Pyrite ammunition for extra-strong volleys, loading regular rounds, or even loading themselves (!!!) into the catapult to be launched. In the case of the siege engine, the pilot can only steer and ram things, while the passenger sees to the engine's defenses using a gunner turret and a short-term force field. Awesomely, the bikes can do a cone of damage with their horn, or drop oil slicks to slow enemies. These slicks can then be lit on fire with demolisher attacks.

So I hopped in a chopper, and the rest of the group filled out the other vehicles, with 2 in each siege engine and demolisher, and one other person on the remaining bike.

At first, confusion ruled. No one had any idea what they were doing. Eventually, someone figured out entirely by accident that we could light the oil slicks on fire. Another person noticed that enemy reinforcements were streaming from small beacon towers around the battlefield, and we set about the grim business of destroying them. Someone noticed that the enemy appeared to be shipping volatile pyrite via easily-shot-down helicoptor robots, expanding our arsenal. I discovered repair pads that allowed us to continue the fight. As the chaos began to subside, we focused our attacks on 4 large towers across the map, clearing them out before facing Flame Leviathon. We discovered that each vehicle had a main role: the siege engines had high HP, the demolishers moved slowly but did massive ranged damage, and the bikes were extremely fast, with unlimited speed boosts (provided they weren't also using energy to attack). The bikes were perfect for ferrying people from place to place, and proved invaluable when another vehicle was destroyed. In those cases, if we acted quickly the riders could hop on our bike and be driven to safety (and healed with one of our bike's abilities). If you lose a vehicle, it's not the end of the world: they eventually respawn back at the entrance, so if you lived you can just have a chopper ferry you back there at super speed, and if you died you can just corpse run back in.

And that makes this trash an inconsequential joke. Granted, it was hilariously fun, and didn't grate in the way phase 3 Maly does. We all had a blast with it, but I can imagine finding it pretty tedious a few months from now.

And so, having finally gotten the hang of our vehicles, we approach the gate to the next area, and A FUCKING TANK BUSTS THROUGH THE FUCKING WALL. It was on.

Flame Leviathon

click to embiggen

From what we can tell, Flame Leviathon focuses on the vehicle closest to him, and starts single-mindedly chasing it (hint: it should be a siege engine). After about 20 seconds, you'll see an emote that he's about to switch targets, then he'll begin chasing something else. We had already noted that the siege engines had an ability to interrupt enemy casting, and we also noticed that his flamethrower that was melting our faces had a cast bar. It looked like the strategy was supposed to be: have the targeted siege engine run away, while the other engine chases behind, interrupting the flamethrower. When you get the "5 seconds to target switch" message, the other engine starts running.

FL keeps stacking a buff that increases his movement speed, so it became harder and harder to outrun him. It helps to drop oil slicks in his path (and light them up for MASSIVE DAMAGE!!). We also discovered that the bike horn seemed to have quite a long range, so we could use it to attack him without getting into the damage aura FL sometimes put up around himself.

You know the boss is a pushover when he jumps you by surprise AND you went in blind, and you still get him to about 15% on your first attempt. I couldn't believe how low his HP was. He was still beating us up, granted, because we had to figure it out as we went along. Towards the end of that attempt, with just one demolisher left, the passenger decided to commit suicide by hopping in to catapult and getting launched at FL. As it turns out, this landed them on top of him uninjured, and able to target two turrets on his back.


So we came back prepared, and opened by launching both passengers onto FL to take out the turrets. When they did so, he would Overload, stunning him for a while and increasing damage taken by 50%. We just timed it so he was sitting on a flaming oil slick when it happened, and then bombarded him. The fight became truly trivial.

So FL is the new Loot Reaver of Wrath, a pinata of gear that is better than stuff from Naxx 25 (pre-KT at least). Even better, he's the first boss of the instance and is fought on vehicles who's damage is not effected by gear (only HP). The kicker: he drops weapons and trinkets. The two most sought-after and difficult types of items to get, and this loot pinata drops them exclusively. In our case, he dropped two trinkets. I replaced my badge trinket with a Pyrite Infuser and no one wanted the the MP5 trinket.


click to embiggen

With FL down, Brann's forces take over the area (go go phasing!) and install teleporters that make it mush easier to get from the entrance to the next area. Kudos to Blizzard on this idea (and for making the trash after this so sparse). Riding through the gate that FL Kool-Aid-Manned down leads to an intersection with 3 paths: left to Ignis's forge, forward to a giant clockwork robot, and right to an empty stone balcony with some dwarves setting up harpoon launchers. We started debating which way to go, then noticed a big dragon flying over the empty balcony. Realizing this is a fantasy game, we took it as our obligation to slay that dragon.

We read off the boss abilities beforehand: a flame breath that stacked a debuff on the tank, a fireball that left blue spots of Bad Shit to Not Stand In, and a wing buffet that knocked everyone back. We assumed it would work like Gluth with a tank switch-off whent he debuff stacked, and we'd just avoid the blue flame and tank n spank.

Oh, how wrong we were.

Talking to a dwarf begins the encounter, causing giant drills to burst up out of the ground, depositing angry iron dwarves before us. The friendly NPC's engaged them, announcing they would need their felled bodies to repair the harpoon guns. Our tanks began pulling the adds, but things got messy as they got overwhelmed, and our disarray put some of us out of range of the healers. Razorscale remained in the air, pelting us with fire damage and dropping fire zones. After 2 or 3 waves of adds, we saw a message that the harpoon gun was ready. A healer clicked it, shooting a chain up at the dragon and locking her into place above us. After a few more waves, another harpoon was ready. This one worked with the first one to pull the dragon down onto the ground, right into the middle of our party.

Our tanks tried to grab her and turn her away from the raid, but no matter how hard they tried, she would not budge. We used this opportunity to unload on her. After about 20 seconds, she took a deep breath, and we figured out why she wouldn't turn. She was killing the harpoon guns with her fire breath so she could blast off again.

Little light bulbs started going off in our heads.

After we wiped, we formulated a new strategy. Break the raid up into two groups, each focused on one side of the adds, and the third healer in the middle helping both groups. This got us through the add segments much better. When she landed, everyone got to her sides to avoid the breath, and DPS unloaded hard on her while the tanks held the remaining adds. This seemed to be working great, and we got through 3 cycles of this. The only problem was, she only took abotu 15% of her health in damage each landing. At this rate, it would take around 7 full cycles to kill her. It didn't seem right: should the fight really go on that long?

She landed again, and we pounded her some more, dropping her below 50%. We prepared for her to lift off again. Then, one of our healers shouts "HOLY SHIT!!" in vent. Right about then, we all notice a message saying that Razorscale won't be lifting off again. She suddenly had an aggro table, and her jaws went right for our soft, chewy healers.

Ah! So we repeatedly bring her down until we can get her below 50%, then we tank her for the rest of the fight! Easy-peasy! There were a few more kinks to work out such as keeping her moving while tanking her (she likes to leave fire zones under herself, a la grobbulus) and switch off tanks after a few breaths (her breaths "fuse armor", and after 5 stacks your tank will be locked in place, unable to move or act because his plate armor is now a prison). Once we figured it out, the fight wasn't all that difficult. It only took us a few extra attempts because some of our DPS were getting one-shotted unexpectedly, dying before the healers could react. It turns out that if they got randomly targeted by her fireball at the same time as something else, it would do too much damage and kill them instantly, with no way to avoid it or react. Seemed kind of cheap. The mages ended up spamming Fire Ward on themselves, and we just kind of hoped it didn't happen to a healer or the warlock.

The next day, we read that Blizz considered that a bug, and had hotfixed the boss so her fireballs did less damage. Hah.

She dropped a pair of leather melee boots (no rogue now that I've switched, so they went to the druid's offset) and a caster trinket that went to a mage. What's with all these trinkets off the early bosses? Aren't they traditionally the hardest items to get from raids?

Could it be that Blizzard is learning?

Anyway, with Razorscale down, we called the raid for the night.


It was really, really fun. I love having a new instance, with new art, new boss mechanics, and tons of novelty and pretty stuff to enjoy. So far, it seems like they've gone above and beyond what I've seen before (granted, I never saw Sunwell) in boss and instance design. I can't wait to see more of it.

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