Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the Path to Dragonwrath

Legendary weapons. I used to daydream about them, salivating at the simple thought of owning one on my main someday. Unfortunately, I was never in a position to farm Naxx40 for Atiesh, the only legendary meant for caster DPS through Wrath of the Lich King. So, over 5 years later (has it really been that long?) and needless to say, I was thrilled when Dragonwrath was announced as Cataclysm's first Legendary. However, what is left in the wake of my saliva - after 2 months of working towards the staff - isn't more drool, but a warlock foaming at the mouth.

Here's why:

The Nexus Quest

Upon stepping into a "special" version of the Nexus for the "Through a Glass, Darkly" portion of the Dragonwrath questline, I received an unexpected surprise - a single-player experience so enjoyable, I remember telling guildies that it was a microcosm of everything the 1-player portion of WoW should be. The solo quest is sufficiently-challenging (at least for a warlock) while remaining far from impossible, and incredibly satisfying to complete. The story was there, the mood was perfect; it had everything going for it. But with everything the experience did right for my fire-flinging fingers to enjoy, there existed a distracting and glaring problem: it felt like my warlock wasn't meant to be there.

When I pulled Thyrinar, the final boss of the quest, I immediately felt out of my warlock's element. This encounter was not minion-friendly. The Felhunter - the pet of choice for this encounter - sat beyond the range of the boss and could not attack him with physical or Shadow Bite damage. He was able to get some action after using Spell Lock to interrupt one of Thyrinar's casts, bringing the boss within range as he approached to smack me upside the head. This approach proved helpful, but was definitely not the answer-all to the problems that persisted.

During a number of separate attempts that evening, the Felpuppy bugged in some way, shape, or form. On my first try, for example, the little guy stopped responding about a quarter of the way through the encounter and just stood there, completely frozen in the middle of the platform. I Soulburned a resummon and there he'd reappear, frozen still.

When I was lucky enough to keep the Felpup moving on command, he would periodically ignore my instructions to cast Devour Magic (no, it wasn't on cooldown) or just decide he didn't want to be there anymore and despawn altogether. Without my minion devouring the boss's shield/regen-buff (which mages can spellsteal, btw), victory was out of reach, and it was frustrating to lose the encounter in such a way. And it happened over and over again.

When I finally completed the quest (using the Affliction spec pictured above for sweet survivability) after getting lucky with my Felhunter's behavior, I appreciated the difficulty and the amount of work that went into the event's design and intent. It really is one that every caster should see. However, the pet-related bugs added quite a bit of frustration to the overall experience. Most will never feel it, however - mages, boomkins, shamans, priests ... none are reliant on pets or minions that would potentially bug out and mess things up for them. This is purely a warlock problem. Lucky us.

Speaking of other classes, the obvious ease with which some could faceroll the event without an issue, particularly "lolcane" mages, doesn't make me feel any better about this. I mean, this is seriously slanted, and ridiculously-so. I heard a story about a lolcane mage's pet gerbil running across his keyboard, popping Time Warp, Mirror Image, and then scratching it's back on the Arcane Blast button, blasting Thyrinar and Spellstealing with it's nubby tail on command. True story.

Anyhow, moving on before this becomes a standardized and over-played anti-mage post.

Time After Time

Nothing says "you're not special" louder than a slap of repetition across the face. Doing the same thing over and over again, after all, isn't a very difficult calling, is usually not substantial work by any means, often pays lousy, and even the most simple-minded of individuals (lolcanes, again) should be able to get things done in such a manner, given enough time of course. Doesn't sound too flattering, right? Well, normal-mode 10man raider, sucks to be you.

And in this case, that "you" is me, and I'm all frothy because of it.

To complete Dragonwrath with the guild that I've been raiding with for over 2 years, it will take me about 19-23 weeks to gather all of the required mats, assuming that I get the average number of drops per item per week, post-nerf. That is:

 - 25 Eternal Embers: 4-5 weeks
 - 1000 Seething Cinders: 7-8 weeks
 - 250 Smouldering Essences: 8-10 weeks

And that's assuming a full clear of Firelands each week with no internet connectivity issues, no power outages, no holidays, no family vacations, no baby food flying across the room and onto my keyboard seeping beneath the keys and rendering it useless, no wife tempting me with her goodies during raid time - no issues whatsoever that would prevent me from logging in and getting my items for the week. Unfortunately, in the real world, all of that stuff happens, and far too often (well, not that last one - that can happen as often as she'd like). But even with these slight "breaks" in the pattern, the amount of grinding required for this, for someone like me, is quite ridiculous.

No matter how you swing it, killing the same bosses over and over again, week after week, over the course of half a year isn't something I would call "fun." Nor is it something that I or anyone with at least half a brain would call "legendary," either. In fact, this kind of repetition can be destructive, directly competing with progression as it will with my guild this upcoming week. Say we want to work on heroic modes during our scheduled raiding time. We'll have two options: practice, down new bosses on Heroic mode, and progress ... or just clear all bosses on normal mode so I can get my Seething Cinders for the week. How would the latter be fair to ask of my guildmates? How is that fair to even put me or any one person out of 10 in that position?

Even if the guild did decide to just clear normal mode, it would just be what it has been: the same old encounters that only reward less and less each time through. And that is a very demotivating prospect. I mean, really, I don't work at a fast food chain or gas station for a reason. I don't want to flip burgers. I don't want to make change. I don't want to kill bosses...

Volcanus, taking it up the ... last part of his name.

...over and over again. Give us some flair; something legendary to work with. Then, maybe, we can call the reward as such.

When the Fat Lady Sings 4.3 Lands

So, patch 4.3 is on the PTR as of today, and a new tier of ilvl397 gear drops with it. But wait, isn't Dragonwrath ilvl397, too? What does this all mean?

I'll tell you.

If I and other 10man raiders are to complete Dragonwrath - and that is a very big "if" - it will most likely happen after 4.3 makes it to live servers (patches are usually on the PTR for about 4 weeks). And when 4.3 does go live, how many desperate DPS spellcasters do you think will seriously ask their guilds to skip the new raid content, drops, and goodies and continue to use their limited time to farm questline mats out of Firelands? Very few can ask that of anyone with a straight face, I'm guessing. And those that do will likely be laughed at, ridiculed, and molested by the shiny new ilvl397 staff the mage just got ... because, you know, the warlock is going after Dragonwrath and doesn't need it.


It's bad enough that the legendary weapon we will have worked on for over 5 months will be comparable, in terms of overall performance, to a drop off a boss in the new raid instance. Does it also really need to be harder for us to actually get a group that will be willing to make Dragonwrath happen? I don't think providing a smoother path is too much to ask, do you?

Maybe if the new Raid Finder included Firelands ...

Long Path Ahead

So, here I am. A few hundred Seething Cinders into this questline and several ridiculously repetitive weeks to go before I see Phase 2 of the staff. I hope many of you are having better time and luck than me. If not, well then, like me, I'm sure you'll continue to keep dreaming of a legendary weapon of your own one day. And, like me, perhaps it will turn into a nightmare and have you foaming at the mouth. And again, like me, I hope you will keep trying, and eventually make it happen.

Good luck.