Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Lessons in Lore: The Vortex Pinnacle

The Vortex Pinnacle resides in the Skywall, the elemental plane of air. Fortunately for you, the only trick to getting there is being able to fly above the zone of Uldum. The instance itself is in the skies in the Southeastern portion of the zone. 

In Uldum you will come across the city of Orsis while helping the Ramkahen. Orsis was attacked by wind elementals, servants of Al'akir, who has aligned himself and his armies with Deathwing. Orsis is now left in ruins, but you are able to help out some of the buried citizens in the sand and report back to the Ramkahen on what happened. You also learn that the air elementals took at least one prisoner, and it's up to you to go to the Vortex Pinnacle and save him. 

Essentially, the Vortex Pinnacle is just a staging ground for the armies of Al'akir to attack the citizens of Uldum. Thankfully you and your flying mount can take the fight to the army's doorstep and take out some high ranking officials before you eventually make it to the Throne of Four Winds to take on Al'akir himself. 

The lore is very sparse on the bosses of the dungeon. The first boss, Grand Vizier Ertan is a standard sentry, telling you that you're not welcome in the Skywall.  The last boss, Asaad, Caliph of the Zephyrs seems to be a high ranking member of the elementals calling on Al'akir's aid during the fight.  The title, Caliph, is an old title of Islamic leaders, and translates as successor. This fits with the Arabic theme that Blizzard has gone with for the denizens of the Skywall.  Asaad is classified as a Djinni or Djinn, which are akin to genies. The middle boss of the dungeon is a dragon named Altairus. Altair means the flying one, or bird of prey in Arabic. Altairus drops Reins of the Dragon of the North Wind and starts the fight facing North.  It makes sense that Al'akir would have flying creatures in his armies, as well as the many elementals. 

Vortex Pinnacle introduces us to the Skwall, the armies of Al'akir, and the danger the pose to the land of Uldum and the rest of the world.  When you go in to the instance, take some time to look around. It's actually quite beautiful. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Lessons in Lore: The Stonecore

Blizzard actually gives us a fair bit of lore information on The Stonecore, which you can read at the official site here.  The information was released as a build up to the Cataclysm expansion to introduce people to the kinds of things they should be getting excited about as the release date got closer. Here's a quick summary before we expand on it a little.

The Stonecore is the heart of Deepholm, the elemental plane of earth.  Before Deathwing was corrupted by the Old Gods, he was the Earthwarder, the Dragon aspect of earth, alongside the likes of Malygos and Alexstrasza. So Deepholm and Deathwing are well connected. Sometime before the start of World of Warcraft, Deathwing suffered a defeat at the hands of the other aspects. They presumed him dead, but in reality he had just retreated to the Stonecore, where he rested, regained his strength, and spread his influence throughout Azeroth via the Twilight's Hammer Cultists.

When he got better, Deathwing took off like a dragon out of Deepholm and broke into the mortal plane of Azeroth where he proceeded to burn everything he could set his eyes on. In the process he destroyed what we know as the World Pillar, a significant piece of planet supporting architecture that you'll spend the majority of your time questing in Deepholm to repair.

With Deathwing now gone, the Twilight's Hammer Cultists regard the place of his recovery as sacred. They will protect it with their lives, and use it to perform dark rituals in service to their lord and the Old Gods.

When you first enter the Stonecore, you'll be tasked with chasing down a Twilight cultist who is transporting some important documents. If you've quested in Deepholm at all, you'll recognize the carrier as Millhouse Manastorm. Millhouse was first seen back in The Burning Crusade as part of the final boss battle in the Arcatraz.  He was a prisoner there that when released, assists you in defeating the final boss. We don't really learn how Millhouse got involved with the Twilight's Hammer cultists, but he's here now, and it's up to you to stop him. After chasing him for awhile, Millhouse decides to put a stop to your shenanigans and begins to cast the spell Impending Doooooooooom! Fortunately, you never find out what exactly the spell does because Millhouse gets eaten by Corborus before he can finish casting the spell.

Corborus is a gyreworm, similar to the many other stone worms you see throughout Deepholm.  After eating Millhouse, it's up to you to stop the worm from eating you and your party as another snack.

Your next encounter is with Slabhide, a stone drake who, under the control of the cult, tries to keep you from getting closer to the inner sanctum of the Stonecore.  Not much else is known about the drake, but you have to vanquish him to move further into the dungeon.

Ozruk is a stone giant, and is a child of Therazane, the Stonemother. She tells you that he did not return from the Stonecore when she called to him. She believes him to be under the power of the dark magics of the cult and requests that you return him to the earth. You do what you have to do and open the way to the World's Heart at the center of the Stonecore.

And in that heart is High Priestess Azil, who along with her hundreds of followers,  is preparing a ritual of some dark origin.  After putting a stop to that, you may want to take a look around the room behind her altar.  This is the very place that Deathwing lay before he burst into the world above.  If you recall the opening cinematic of Cataclysm, it shows the cultists reinforcing Deathwing's armor plating before he takes off.  This is the place where that happened.  And thanks to you, it's now out of the hands of the cultists. For now.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lessons in Lore: Throne of the Tides

The Throne of the Tides is located in Vashj'ir. More specifically in the Abyssal Maw within a large, hard to miss, whirlpool. It's important to note that while the instance is available immediately at level 80 you don't have a lore reason to go there until you've completed the entirety of Vashj'ir. So much of this post will be a spoiler for what you experience while questing in that zone. If you have quested in that zone, hopefully this will sum up what you experienced and fill in anything you may have missed. Again, spoilers for Vashj'ir if you have not completed the zone.

If you get the quest from your major city to Vashj'ir, you'll be put on a boat and shipped off over seas to get there.  But it doesn't take long before you're attacked by a giant squid. That's Ozumat. Remember him, you'll be seeing him again.  Lost at sea, you're rescued by the Earthen Ring, specifically by a shaman named Erunak Stonespeaker.  He'll set you and your buddies straight, teach you to breath and walk under water, and put you on the path to go through the rest of the zone. After a few more quests, you'll be attacked by a force of Naga and get the general idea that the Naga are after something here and are building an army and taking prisoners to accomplish that something.

A little later on, Erunak will have you go on a sort of vision quest in which you act out events that happened sometime in the past as a Naga Battlemaiden under the command of Lady Naz'Jar. Lady Naz'Jar and her battlemaidens are fighting against the Vry'kul who have taken up residence in the ruined city of Vashj'ir. It is here that you begin to learn of the Naga's intentions. After taking back the city of Vashj'ir, the Naga intend to mount an attack upon Neptulon, Elemental Lord of the Water. This is where things get interesting.

Neptulon is one of the four elemental lords, along with Ragnaros, Therazane, and Al'akir, all of which make appearances in Cataclysm. We know that Ragnaros and Al'Akir have sided with Deathwing, whereas Therazane becomes friendly with players during the events in Deepholm. It is well known that the Naga were once Night Elves who were drowned after the events of the Sundering 10,000 years ago, including Queen Azshara herself, and it was speculated that Neptulon, under the Old Gods influence had initiated that transformation.  But with the events of Cataclysm and Vashj'ir, it seems more apparent that the Naga were transformed directly by the Old Gods, and now they seek to overthrow Neptulon and take his place as rulers of the water.

So all of this culminates in an epic battle where you, Erunak, and Alliance and Horde forces face off against the Naga as they attempt to destroy Neptulon.  The Naga, with the aid of faceless ones and Ozumat (the squid who shipwrecked you) are able to push Neptulon down to the Throne of Tides through the Abyssal Maw.  Erunak is captured and taken down there as well.  Lady Naz'jar, who spearheaded the Naga attack on Neptulon now has him imprisoned in his own throne room, and it's up to you to free him and make sure the realm of water stays under control of the elements and not the Naga.

So now we finally have an understanding of what all of these people are doing within the Throne of the Tides.

Lady Naz'Jar is the first boss, and was the one who organized the Naga attack upon Vashj'ir and Neptulon.  While she wasn't able to destroy him, she was able to push him back to the Throne of the Tides. Thankfully you'll be able to get rid of her before she's able to cause further damage.

Commander Ulthok, The Festering Prince is a faceless one, which further seems to implicate the Old Gods and the Naga are in cahoots. He appears after you get rid of Lady Naz'Jar, attempting to stop you from getting any further than you already have.

You find Erunak Stonespeaker within, but he's being mind controlled by Mindbender Ghur'sha, who also happens to be attached to Erunak's head. Your goal here is to rescue Erunak and hopefully not have to kill him in order to get rid of Ghur'sha.

With Lady Naz'Jar defeated, Erunak rescued, and all other obstacles removed, your last task is to rescue Neptulon who has been weakened and trapped in the throne room.  It's important that you free him because the Naga's pet squid, Ozumat, is out to finish the job he started at the Abyssal Maw.  With a little help from Neptulon, you should be able to get rid of Ozumat and ensure that Neptulon remembers what you did for him when the time comes to fight Ragnaros in Patch 4.1.

I wish that I had been able to finish Vashj'ir before I did Throne of the Tides for the first time. The design seems a bit wonky in that you can easily finish Vashj'ir and out level the instance before you even know about it, or have the quests for it.  And it's a shame too, since the way the story of Vashj'ir culminates in a huge battle and a dungeon where you assist the Tidehunter in a fight against a giant squid is pretty epic. When I went in for the first time, I had no idea who Naz'JarVasj'ir.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blog Azeroth Shared Topic: Were 5 Levels Enough?

Since I couldn't recently find the time or subject matter to write about anything I thought up myself, this post is brought to you courtesy of Ringo Flinthammer via the Blog Azeroth shared topics forum.

Ringo asks, "For the first time, WoW's latest expansion, Cataclysm, only raised the level cap by 5 levels, in addition to the other content it added. Was Blizzard right to make this call? All other things being equal -- the same number of high level zones and dungeons, for instance -- should they have raised the cap by 10 levels? Should the fourth expansion be a 5-level or 10-level jump?"

When Blizzard announced the next expansion would only be 5 levels instead of 10, I was probably about as shocked as everyone else. Did that mean it was only half an expansion? Would the overall content introduced with Cataclysm be less than what we've gotten used to with previous expansions? A lot of people probably thought Blizzard was taking the easy road by having to develop only five levels of content.  I think after experiencing the Cataclysm first hand, I can see a lot of reasons why they went with only five levels, and it certainly wasn't to screw us out of content.

There are different types of people who play WoW, and Blizzard tries to provide ways for all of those types of people to enjoy the game. I want to look at just two of those types of people. Those who like leveling, and those who don't.  Typically those who like the aspect of leveling aren't as committed to end game content (raiding, heroics, gearing, etc.), though that is certainly not a given. Levelers may like to quest, try out different races and class combinations, play a lot of alts, and other things that are all part of the 1 to 85 leveling process. Those who don't like leveling usually want to level as fast as they can so they can enjoy the end game content more. Again, not always the case. These end-gamers like to spend more time at the top level and therefore may have fewer low level alts, and enjoy running end game heroics and raids to get the best gear.  These are some pretty specific stereotypes, but I'll be using these viewpoints to look at two very different ways of seeing the 5 levels in Cataclysm.

At first you might think people who love to level should be disappointed in only 5 new levels in Cataclysm. You move through zones a bit faster than you may have in Wrath or Burning Crusade, and there aren't as many new zones to begin with. While it probably takes a good deal more time to get to 85 from 80 than it did to get to 75 from 70, the process of going from starting level to top level is faster, so those people who really enjoy the leveling process have a shorter time in that process than they had before.

But there is something else to look at.  If you do enjoy leveling, there's a good chance you enjoy alts and leveling early levels as well, and Cataclysm practically revamped the 1-60 leveling experience for every class and race. That means that in addition to 80-85, we got 1-60 as well. So if you really like leveling, then you got quite a bit more than just 10 levels. New content, new quests, new levels, and new places to see.  If you're not that invested in end game content, there's a whole new world for you to explore.  I think we have to take this into account when looking at what was added in Cataclysm.  There might only be five more new levels, but they also upgraded a whole 60 levels of quests and zones.

I think Blizzard really likes its end game crowd.  For people who only level because they have to in order to run end game content, and thus want to get it over with as quickly as possible, well, now they only have 5 levels to contend with instead of 10.  And to top that off, there is about as much end game content in Cataclysm as there was in Wrath and TBC.  There are three raids, all accessible at 85 with a relatively similar gear level, and numerous heroic dungeons to run. There were three raids when Wrath started as well, and that was after you had to slog through 10 levels of content.

End-gamers probably got the better end of the deal in this regard compared to those who like to level. While the latter do have a whole new 1-60 experience to enjoy, they don't get as much content in the higher levels.

Personally, I'm a mix of both of these views as I very much enjoy leveling and seeing new content, but I also have spent the majority of time on Elionene, my main character, to get her ready for raiding. I'm looking forward to raiding and downing bosses, but I'm also looking forward to when I can spend less time getting ready for raids, and more time working on alts and seeing early level zones.  Lal and I both would love to spend some time on the new Dwarves or Night Elves we created between 4.0.1 and the release of the expansion.

Again, these are two very specific points of view. But I think it illustrates well that 5 levels, for the most part, was enough for this expansion. The reasoning being that Blizzard also spent an inordinate amount of time and resources on both the earlier leveling experience and the end game content, to keep the ultimate amount of content in this expansion on par with their other expansions. So for the next expansion, if they are only introducing new content and not changing any of the old content, then I would hope for at least 10 new levels. But I don't think that's what will happen. It think they'll stick with the 5 level expansion from now on, just so they don't get numbers that seem ridiculously big to work with. So it will take 3 more expansions to get to level 100, rather than 2. Here's hoping for a revamped Outland and maybe even Northrend in a couple expansions.