Thursday, December 10, 2009

3.3 Early Impressions, and the LFG tool

As much as I anticipated this patch, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with just how good it has been so far. There were some bad server problems on patch day (I can't believe Blizz didn't anticipate how many people would want to do this new stuff...), and I was all ready to rage about them. But then last night things were fine, so I guess either they splurged on some more servers or the number of people trying to do exactly the same thing simultaneously plummeted.

From the patch notes, I expected to be excited about the lore-rich 5-mans, the raid instance, and a few other tweaks. But I never expected that after only two days, the real stand-out part of this patch - and the part that will change the face of the game forever (and for the better!) - wasn't any of that.

The new LFG tool
If you had told me a week ago how good this thing was, I wouldn't have believed you. In fact, lots of people tried to tell me how good it was, and I was incredulous as a Ret Paladin finding his PvP target still alive after the HoJ stun wore off. I wasn't having none of that.

For five years now, everything Blizzard has tried to do to help people find groups has been sub-par. They've tried to make improvements, but the new additions always showed a lack of forethought and indicated that the developers were at least somewhat out of touch with how players actually find groups. It destroyed my faith that Blizzard couldn't even make a LFG interface that competed with City of Heroes, which is an older game.

But they've more than made up for it now. I'm blown away.

This thing slices, it dices, and it will actually find you a tank in under a minute. It makes instancing and assembling a group a breeze, and it means that when I'm playing, I can spend my time actually playing, rather than spamming Trade channel for a tank or healer.

[unrelated note: people who complain about LFG messages in Trade channel need to shut up. I've accidentally joined many a great group pre-3.3 when I didn't happen to be in the LFG chat channel or system but saw an ad in trade chat. It's not like you were really using Trade for much of anything anyway.]

So far, I've run about 7 heroics using the system, and not had a bad egg in any of them. Once we got a severely undergeared rogue, but he played just fine. If anything, I wish that I could keep in contact with some of the good players I've met from other servers and manually invite them to future pugs.

Sure, maybe it won't be as good once 3.3 fever winds down and the LFG qeue isn't as crowded as it is right now. But nevertheless, I think it's a great system. I'm especially interested to see how this effects what role players choose to play. Tobold thinks it will increase the number of tanks and healers, and I'm inclined to agree.

The main downside is that I will no longer be able to get such a good laugh when I see a group of 3 plate DPS "LFM tank and healz pst"

Icecrown Raid
Awwwwwww, shit. That's the stuff. Mmmmmm. Oh, yes, don't sto-what? You're kidding, right? I have to wait 28 days for the next hit?


So far, the ICC raid has lived up to my high expectations for it. My guild was the first to complete it on our server (we finished the 10-man only 20 minutes before the top guild finished it on 25-man), so I've seen the whole thing, and it's reasonably challenging, but not very hard. I'd put most of the bosses roughly on par with Northrend Beasts 10 hard-mode. Given the easier ways to get gear now, I anticipate that most groups will be able to at least make some progress in the place. Without getting too spoiler-y:

The opening trash is a bit brutal and a bit long. I think it's intended to dissuade really casual groups from trying to farm the first boss. Hint: don't charge into the first room and start AoEing. Unlike with the rest of Wrath content, that strategy will feed you your own intestines. Also, watch out for gigantic skeletons and their saber lash.

The first boss looks supremely epic. And really, how can you go wrong with a guy who periodically shouts "BONE STORM!!!"? It's a relatively simple fight, borrowing mechanics from BT and Shattered Halls. He was easy to beat with our 232-geared mains, but was a lot harder to bring down with our lesser-geared alt group - not because of the mechanics, but just because of the raw damage numbers the boss was putting out, especially on the tanks.

The trash for the second boss will evoke Shadow Labs for many of you, and you'll have to actually drag the CC spells back onto your action bars. If you can even remember which spells they are. The boss herself is little more than a skeleton (she must be friends with Kate Moss, whose motto is: "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels") protected by a mana shield. The fight is quite novel, because it has you dealing with a variety of adds in exciting and constantly-changing ways. It's like a more fun and interesting take on Gothik.

The way to the third "boss" is when things start to get really epic, with horde and alliance battling for control of this upper balcony outside of the citadel, all the while fending off the scourge. You'll head to your faction's airship, at which point you get to play with rocket packs! This fight is epic, fun and frenetic, and exactly the type of thing that I was asking for when I designed The Awesoming raid encounter way back in the early days of this blog (in fact, the entire instance so far invokes that to some degree; there are tons of lore and storyline events going on throughout the epic set pieces). It wasn't hard to take out the enemy ship, the only challenge was not letting our offtank get owned by Bronzebeard.

Your ship will drop you off right in front of the final, lore-rich boss of this wing. The fight was straightforward to figure out, but very much a challenge of execution, as each mistake you make heals the boss more and more until the extra damage to you and healing to him becomes insurmountable. But once our tanks got a taunt rotation perfected and the ranged dps worked the kinks out of the kiting, we were able kill this boss so well that we even got an extra acheivement!

Overall, the same flare for both aesthetic and fight design that went into Ulduar is on full display again here, only knocked up a notch and soaked in a thick gravy of delicious lore. Every single battle of this wing trumps everything else in the game in some way, whether it be the emotional storyline resonance of Deathbringer, the epicness of the gunship battle, the horrible beauty of a giant skeletal construct, or the new and interesting fight mechanics of Lady Deathwhisper. Having major warcraft characters directly involved and performing a variety of scripted events throughout the dungeon cements the entire thing together into something greater than its parts. They've turned the raid into a fully fleshed-out piece of entertainment. This is the apex, as it should be.

I don't have time to talk about the 5-mans right now, but suffice it to say I'm impressed with them as well. So far, this is shaping up to be the best patch they've ever done. Bravo, Blizzard!

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