Rabu, 25 November 2009

World of Warcraft: Naxxramas Raid Guide

With the latest World of Warcraft expansion Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard's stated aim has been to get more people involved in the game's top-tier "raid" dungeons. It's made all of them accessible to 10-player groups, and attempted to smooth their notoriously steep difficulty curves. In the first of an occasional series aimed at the novice raider, we present a tour of Lich King's "starter" raid, Naxxramas, in its 10-man version.

The little-seen pinnacle of Blizzard's 40-player raid design, the Naxxramas Necropolis makes a welcome return in new expansion Wrath of the Lich King, now serving as an entry-level raid dungeon for 10- and 25-player groups. Hovering ominously over the south-eastern area of Dragonblight, it is home to Kel'Thuzad, right-hand man of the Lich King, and his legion of unpleasant minions. While some of the encounters have been tweaked and simplified from their original versions to reflect the smaller group sizes and a less strict class representation, the principles remain largely the same and can provide a considerable challenge for those unfamiliar to them and/or new to raiding.

With the expansion directly addressing many of the issues of group composition and "class stacking" that affected raiding in the past, raiding is no longer so strictly balanced around assuming specific classes, talent specs, and the abilities available only to them. Blizzard has said that its intention now is for groups to "bring the player, not the class" - and as a result, this new incarnation of Naxxramas demands very little in terms of arranging groups, and class stacking is unnecessary for quick progression.

The only real requirement now is that you have two tanks and two healers - the rest is up to you. Naturally, things may be easier with certain abilities available to call upon, but as long as the raid is skilled and geared to an appropriate degree - say, at least all blue-quality gear from level 80 dungeons - and is able to grasp the mechanics of the encounters, any reasonable combination of classes and talent specs should be able to succeed.

The Arachnid Quarter

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Naxxramas broods over Dragonblight.

Generally considered the easiest of Naxxramas' four wings, the Arachnid Quarter contains 3 bosses lurking amongst enough spiders to make an arachnophobe out of anyone. The first of these is Anub'Rekhan, a giant scarab-like creature. He begins the fight alone but regularly calls for guards to assist him which must be quickly picked up and killed before returning attention to Anub'Rekhan. Other than his guards, he has three abilities of note: firstly, he sends a trail of spikes along the ground to impale anything in their path, so everyone should avoid bunching up; secondly, anything that dies during the fight, be it guards or players, will spawn dozens of vicious scarabs soon after which will swarm your healers if not dealt with; and lastly, roughly every minute or so, he will begin to cast Insect Swarm, a deadly aura that destroys anything close by, so the tank must run to the other side of the chamber in a manner than prevents the Insect Swarm coming close to the rest of the group, as the slow-moving scarab lord chases after.

Defeat Anub'Rekhan and you should soon find your way to Grand Widow Faerlina and her entourage. Unlike most fights where the boss has guards nearby, these should not be killed immediately, as they play an important role in the battle. While having a rain of fire and volleys of poisonous bolts at her disposal, Faerlina's deadliest ability is her Frenzy, whereupon she will increase both the damage and frequency of her attacks to the point where your tank will soon crumble. However, killing one of her worshippers after it occurs will nullify the effect and return her to normal for a while, so they should all be held by a second tank, and one killed by the raid whenever necessary. Due to the limited number of worshippers, Faerlina's frenzy cannot be dispelled indefinitely, so the group cannot take too long to kill her.

The final boss of the Arachnid Quarter is Maexxna, an ever-so-slightly large spider. The most testing encounter of the area, she unleashes dozens of spider hatchlings, will randomly place a player in a poisonous cocoon that must be broken quickly if they are to survive and, worst of all, uses a web spray to completely immobilise everyone for 8 seconds at a time, putting the tank in dire peril as she continues to attack. To make matters worse, the closer she gets to death, the more powerful she becomes, so those 8 second periods become unbearably long as she rains blows on the tank while everyone watches helplessly. Survive this torturous final 30 per cent, and with her death a portal on the wall becomes active and the raid can return to the centre of the necropolis to decide the next place to go.

The Construct Quarter

Housing more bosses than any other, the Construct Quarter contains all kinds of bizarre experiments dreamt up by the Lich King's mad scientists. While Naxxramas was originally famed for the varied mechanics of its battles, the first construct boss, Patchwerk, was the exception to the rule and is the concept of a 'tank & spank' fight taken to the brutal extreme. Hitting both the tank and offtank devastatingly and relentlessly, healers are tasked with keeping both up in the face of Patchwerk's fearsome barrage of blows. Meanwhile, the raid's damage dealers must go all out with everything they have if they are to kill him within 6 minutes, at which point he enrages and becomes unstoppable. Relying less on execution or strategy than the other encounters, Patchwerk serves as the first real "gear check" of Naxxramas.

With him gone, there's a fun Frogger homage before you encounter Grobbulus, a strange, lumbering giant in the next room. Creating ever-increasing ripples of poison at his feet, Grobbulus must be moved all around the room if they are to be avoided. He also randomly injects players with venom, both poisoning them and causing them to spawn ripples of their own after a few seconds, thus reducing further the already limited amount of space available. Finally, he will create blobs of slime which must be tanked and killed. Not a particularly demanding fight, the main problem is the lack of space that ensues as it goes on, and the raid will likely find itself hemmed in with nowhere to run as the fight nears its end.

A quick jaunt up a ramp and through a sewer pipe and you'll arrive at Gluth, essentially a giant zombie dog, and one with quite the appetite. Possessing a vicious anti-healing debuff, you'll need two tanks to take turns on him while it wears off. Gluth also regularly frenzies, increasing both the speed and damage of his attacks, though this can be dispelled by certain classes. While all this goes on, numerous zombies are dumped into the room to feed him. Untankable and with too much health to be immediately killed, some lucky soul must kite them around for 90 seconds or so until Gluth uses his Decimate attack. This reduces the health of everything in the room to a quarter of its normal amount and sends the zombies running towards him. Any that reach Gluth are immediately eaten, with each one restoring 5 per cent of his health, so they must quickly be blasted down with all the area-of-effect (AoE) attacks the group has at its disposal.

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Heigan the Unclean from the Plague Quarter. Everybody dance!

With Gluth dead, the gate to his room is unlocked and the path is clear to the final encounter of the Construct Quarter - Thaddius. Blizzard's homage to the story of Frankenstein, Thaddius plays no part in the fight at first; instead he lies inert at the back of a huge chamber. Two guards, Feugen and Stalagg, stand watch on raised platforms on opposite sides of the room and it is them the raid must first deal with. Apart from regularly pulling the other's tank to them, they pose little real threat. However, they must die within seconds of each other before the next stage of the fight can start else the first to die will resurrect itself, putting things back to square one. Should you time it right, both of them die and the raid has a few seconds to leap across to Thaddius' platform for the second stage of the fight.

Tesla coils overload and Thaddius springs into life! After a few seconds of combat, he begins building up a large burst of electrical energy which polarizes everyone with either a positive or negative electrical charge. There are a few scant seconds for the players to sort themselves into + or - groups, apart from each other - if stood near players with the same polarity as you, your damage capabilities are multiplied, and this buff is essential as Thaddius has a huge amount of hit points to whittle down before he enrages. However, if players with opposite polarities stand too close to each other instead, sparks really will fly. To complicate matters further, he will continue to hit the group with the charges, sometimes changing their polarity and sometimes not, so players must be aware and ready to move again if necessary.

The Plague Quarter

The smallest wing of the four, the Plague Quarter has three bosses in fairly quick succession. The first of these, Noth the Plaguebringer, lies not far from the entrance and paces restlessly in his lair until the raid attack him. As the fight goes on, he calls upon the dead to rise up and assist him, so attention must be spread equally between attacking him and killing the spawns so the raid isn't overwhelmed. To make matters worse, Noth will randomly apply a curse to three members of the group which, if not removed within 10 seconds, will cause substantial damage to the entire group. He will also Blink away on occasion, resetting all threat and so putting any inattentive damage dealers at risk if they don't give the tank time on him again. Lastly, after 90 seconds of combat, Noth will teleport completely out of range and send more risen dead against the raid for a couple of minutes. Each time he does this, more and more skeletons will spawn so if he doesn't die before the third teleport, the raid runs the risk of being overrun completely.

With Noth out of the way, a gate to a dank grotto filled with grubs, bats and shambling beasts is revealed. After clearing a path through it, the raid will confront one of the more notorious inhabitants of Naxxramas, Heigan the Unclean. A fight split between two alternating stages, the first sees Heigan dragged back and forth across the floor of his chamber by the tank and melee while the healers and ranged attackers stand on his platform. The second phase begins when Heigan teleports back to his platform and starts channelling a deadly aura around him, forcing everyone off. It's at this point the Heigan Dance begins. Acid erupts from the floor below and the raid must quickly run across the room, stopping briefly at certain safe spots before moving off to the next. Any delay or wrong positioning will see players almost instantly killed by the eruptions, so knowing when and where to move to is crucial. After avoiding 8 or so eruptions, Heigan will rejoin the fray, and so things repeat until he finally dies.

After Heigan is a corridor filled with rapidly respawning grubs and faintly sinister eye-stalks. Originally it was used as part of the Heigan encounter, with a few players randomly teleported to the far end of it and having to battle their way back to their teammates. Now, it simply serves as the last minor obstacle before the final boss of the Plague Quarter, Loatheb.

In his original form, Loatheb was arguably the epitome of all that was wrong with raiding prior to the 2.1 patch of The Burning Crusade. Requiring almost every buff possible for every serious attempt, it was not unheard of for guilds to pay other players hundreds of gold to turn in items that provided world buffs (Onyxia's Head, Hakkar's Heart and so on) for any advantage they could get to defeat him. Fortunately, while the basic principles of the fight remain, it's been changed to be far less demanding. Loatheb's main ability is a Necrotic Aura which is applied to the entire room. Lasting for 15 seconds at a time, it negates any and all healing effects completely, even potions and healthstones. Additionally, he places various curses on the raid which deal damage over time and gradually leave everyone's health perilously low. Once the Necrotic Aura runs out, there are a few seconds before it's reapplied so the healers must use that time to heal both the tank and the raid as much as possible.

The other component of the fight are spores which periodically appear. When destroyed, they shower a small area directly beneath them with a buff that grants whoever receives it increased damage and chance to hit, and they're essential for undergeared groups if they are to have a chance of victory (though naturally there is an achievement based around not using any at all).

The Military Quarter

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Death Knights in the Military Quarter.

Rounding off the four corners of Naxxramas, there is the Military Quarter, where the Lich King's Death Knights like to hang out and swap fishing stories. There are lots of patrols to be dealt with here, more than in the other wings, and it can take some time to clear through to the first challenge of the area, Instructor Razuvious.

A fearsome Death Knight, and Karate Kid fan to boot, Razuvious is accompanied by a pair of students who are key to defeating him. Unlike other bosses, Razuvious generally hits far too hard for any tank to realistically cope with so, thanks to the handily-placed mind-control devices, his students must be used to taunt and tank him instead, while the raid attack him. The students must take turns, as even with their greater health, they will quickly die unless their Bone Armour ability is available to use to reduce the damage taken. In addition to his great strength, Razuvious will also randomly throw knives at players and cause AoE damage to everyone with a Disrupting Shout. Though initially tricky, this is one of the easiest encounters in Naxxramas and it shouldn't take too long to beat.

Following Razuvious and the various trash packs lurking after lies Gothik the Harvester, observing all from the safety of a balcony high out of reach. A wall and gate divides his room in two and the raid must equally split into a side each. Once the encounter begins, the gate slams shut and Gothik sends his legions into battle on the left side of the room, slowly at first, but in eve- increasing and more powerful numbers. Each that dies on the 'live' side is then raised to attack the players on the 'dead' side of the room. The danger here lies in the live side team killing their enemies so quickly as to swamp the dead side, yet killing fast enough to make sure they themselves aren't overwhelmed instead. After a few minutes of this, the waves cease, and Gothik leaves his balcony to join the attack on the live side group, teleporting back and forth between both sides of the room. Eventually, the gate opens and the players are reunited as they try and finish him before his ever-increasing debuff reduces the raid's stats completely and kills it.

With Gothik's demise, just one obstacle remains between the raid and entry into the heart of Naxxramas - the Four Horsemen. Both acclaimed and reviled in their original incarnation for the degree of co-ordination, tactical expertise and class stacking required to defeat them, the Horsemen remain a tricky proposition even in this simplified form.

The Four are Sir Zeliek, Lady Blaumeux, Thane Korgazz and - substituting for absent former horseman Mograine - Stratholme's own Baron Rivendare. The former two can be tanked by anyone standing within 20 yards of them, while the latter two are tanked normally. Each horseman has a variety of unique attacks, but all have one thing in common: after a certain number of seconds, each will apply a damaging and stacking debuff named after themselves (for example, the Mark of Rivendare) on anyone within a large radius of them, and will continue to apply more until the damage it does becomes fatal. To cope with this, the simplest way is to just have your respective tanks trade places with each other so that the first set of marks fade while another set are applied from their new target. As each horseman reaches 50 per cent health, they will Shield Wall to reduce the amount of damage they take, and even if killed, their corpses will continue to apply marks to whoever is in range.

With all four quarters cleared, the platform above the entrance becomes active, and access to the heart of Naxxramas is available.

Frostwyrm Lair

A large circular room with a mass of bones in its centre, the opposite side of Frostwyrm Lair features a doorway covered in ice. As the raid nears the centre, the bones begin to swirl and come together until the frostwyrm Sapphiron is formed. A blue dragon encountered by Arthas and Anub'arak as they journeyed through Northrend, the then-Death Knight was impressed with his foe and raised him from the dead to serve the Scourge.

A relatively straightforward battle, Sapphiron could nonetheless be the hardest encounter to be found in Naxxramas. Like many dragons, he has a highly damaging cleave that will easily kill any melee who stray too near his front, and a whip of his tail will send players flying across the room. Additionally, Sapphiron will cast a large blizzard to rain ice shards down on parts of the room, as well as a life-drain on a selected player which, if not dispelled, will quickly reduce their health while increasing his own. Despite these formidable abilities, it is his ever-present Frost Aura that presents the greatest danger to the raid, constantly dealing damage to everyone every few seconds throughout the fight and likely to tax your healers to the limit. Frost resistance gear, while not necessary, may be a great help to inexperienced or undergeared groups here.

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Sapphiron in Frostwyrm Lair.

After a minute or so of combat, Sapphiron will take flight and spit frost bolts at 2 to 3 players, each doing considerable damage to anyone nearby and encasing the target in a block of ice, immobilising them for as long as it lasts. He then takes a deep breath and unleashes a huge cloud of frost over the entire chamber that slowly falls to the ground, which will instantly kill anyone it touches. The only way for the players to save themselves is to rush to the ice blocks their team-mates are trapped in and hide behind them, out of line of sight from Sapphiron and the frost cloud. Once the cloud hits the ground, the ice blocks are destroyed, and Sapphiron flies back down to resume the fight. The pattern repeats until death, whereupon a member of the group can loot an item that will allow access to the Malygos encounter in Coldarra. Meanwhile, the barricade of ice over the door shatters and the path is cleared to...


Once a member of the Kirin Tor who became enamoured with the forbidden arts of Necromancy, Kel'Thuzad was lured to Northrend by the Lich King and went on to become perhaps the most notable and infamous of his subjects. He is untargetable at first, and calls upon the legions of the Scourge to aid him; a small army of walking dead, abominations and banshees appear to answer this call. After a few minutes with the raid under siege, their numbers begin to thin out and Kel'thuzad finally joins the fray.

His most common attack is a volley of frostbolts which will hit most - if not all - of the raid. Additionally, he casts a single, highly damaging frostbolt at the tank, and a frost blast at a player which encases them and anyone standing too close at the time in a block of ice for 4 seconds, and does a fatal amount of damage over that time if not healed through. Another spell at his disposal is Detonate Mana, which burns through a portion of a caster's mana and causes damage to anyone nearby at the end of it. Finally, he will target a player and create a shadowy fissure beneath them which quickly explodes and instantly kills anything within.

At around the 45 per cent mark, a desperate Kel'Thuzad implores the Lich King for assistance. Portals open around the chamber and two Guardians of Icecrown enter the battle. These must be picked up and offtanked as they have too much health to realistically kill, so the fight becomes a race to finish off Kel'Thuzad before his increasingly powerful Guardians become strong enough to kill your tanks. Once their master is defeated, the Guardians scramble for the nearby portals and leave. Naxxramas is yours!

World OF Warcraft Wrath Of The Lich King

It's been two months now since Blizzard unveiled the next expansion pack for World of Warcraft. Or, more accurately, since the Internet unveiled it - but the official announcement still caused a stir amongst the hardcore fans who made the pilgrimage to BlizzCon.

But despite its impressive fanbase (nine million players and counting), WoW is facing tougher competition than ever before. Some players have defected to the Lord of the Rings MMO, while others are taking a serious interest in the development of Warhammer Online. WoW is three years old now and the first expansion, The Burning Crusade, left some players wanting more.

That's what Blizzard intends to provide with Wrath of the Lich King. As previously announced it will raise the level cap to 80 and introduce a new Hero character class, a new trade skill and extra tools, amongst other features.

But is that going to be enough to keep WoW's momentum going? Our friends over at Eurogamer.fr spoke to lead designer Jeff Kaplan and lead character artist Chris Robinson to find out.

Eurogamer: There were some flaws in The Burning Crusade, such as the difficulty of accessing certain instances and other elements which caused concern for hardcore players. What did you learn from that?

Jeff Kaplan: I fully agree with you, we did learn many lessons from The Burning Crusade. We've already fixed the access issue with recent updates. I can't tell you a lot about the progression system in Wrath of the Lich King, but we're exploring new paths to make this add-on accessible to everyone.

For example, we could imagine some open content for a server rather than for a specific guild, like we did with Ahn'Qiraj. We could even push this basic concept a little further. You could also imagine a system which would allow you to grant access to all your characters once you've unlocked it with one of them. It's a very important matter for us; we don't want to remake what I personally consider a mistake in the Burning Crusade.

We want to re-examine all the trade skills one by one. For example, the leather craft in the Burning Crusade was interesting only in the first level of the add-on. It became rather obsolete later compared to the objects you could take from the monsters, get as rewards for quests or find inside dungeons. In the Wrath of the Lich King, we want everyone to be satisfied with the trade they choose and we want it to be rewarding. Therefore we're going to analyse everything we did with The Burning Crusade and previously to work out what was good and what was missed out.

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Eurogamer: You've previously stated that Lich King will let players customise their avatars to a greater degree than ever before. Why have you waited so long?

Jeff Kaplan: The customisation of avatars is one of the key points of an MMORPG which enables players to identify with their characters. Development-wise it involves a huge amount of work, since you've constantly got to ensure the customisation options won't break the whole balance of the game. It's pretty hard to master.

We felt it was the right moment since if we'd spent more time on these elements before, we couldn't have used that time for things we considered more important gameplay-wise.

Eurogamer: How much time will it take an average player to progress from level 70 to level 80?

Jeff Kaplan: While we design some elements of WoW for hardcore gamers who spend a lot of time playing, we mainly aim at average players. Theoretically, it takes as much time to progress from level 70 to level 80 in Lich King as it did to progress from 60 to 70 in The Burning Crusade.

But I'd say we didn't think in those terms. We mostly worked on creating a new territory with enough areas, quests and instances to allow for constant progression. The continent we created is really cool and full of new stuff. It was designed to match the progression curve of the player, so the game experience would be constantly enticing and unique.

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Eurogamer: What can you tell us about the new heroic class, Death Knight?

Chris Robinson: Firstly, the word heroic doesn't mean it will be more powerful than the other classes. As yet, we don't know which level it will be possible to acquire it on. It might be between level 55 and 70, but that's still to be determined.

When your character reaches the required level, you can unlock the Death Knight and create a new character from your existing one. The Death Knight uses runes from three different schools of magic (Blood, Unholy and Frost) and he can enhance his weapons with six of them. These runes enable the player to cast spells, to call on powers or to invoke creatures. The choice is entirely up to the player.

Also, Death Knights will be granted access to specific quests, and their progression through the game towards level 80 is likely to be slower than the other character classes.

Eurogamer: Don't you worry everyone will want to give up their former characters to become a Death Knight?

Chris Robinson: : Not really. Firstly, the Death Knight will be a totally different character from the former one and I'm not sure most players are likely to give up an avatar they've patiently shaped up for three years. Though a majority of players will probably try this new class, I don't think a lot of them will end up making it their main character.

Furthermore, the Death Knight is subject to some restrictions. As I said before, the progression will probably be slower. The range of available weapons will be restricted to swords, possibly axes and may be some others. Nothing's certain for the moment.

Eurogamer: Will it be possible to play as a Death Knight from level one to level 80?

Chris Robinson: No, it's definitely a high-level class. For example, if you eventually need to reach level 55 to create a Death Knight, then he'll begin at level 55 too. That's a deliberate choice we made so as to offer players new content. We want them to spend time exploring what's new in the game and not replaying what they've already done.

By equipping the Death Knight with tank-like skills, don't you risk alienating players who have spent ages building up Warriors or even defence-specialised Paladins?

Jeff Kaplan: The right balance between the various character classes is certainly harder to set in this kind of game. We definitely don't want any player having chosen to play as a tank or a defence-specialised character to feel like giving up because of the introduction of a new character class.

Therefore as soon as a Death Knight appears on one of our servers, we'll take a special care to balance his skills in terms of resistance, DPS et cetera so that each character class and specialisation can keep all of its importance within the game. We're perfectly aware that's something the players might worry about and we'll take care that no class should be devalued.

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Eurogamer: Could you tell us more about the new voice chat tools?

Jeff Kaplan: We've just started implementing the voice chat on the test servers. It's an important evolution for WoW. Lots of players are used to running that kind of system using software like Team Speak or Ventrilo. Now we want to implement this in WoW for many reasons.

Firstly, we want vocal chat to be available to every player, including those who don't have the technical knowledge to install and set up that kind of software. We also wish to ease the lives of players who constantly have to alt-tab to switch between their software and WoW or play in a windowed mode.

In the system we're testing, the interface flashes and a window containing the name of the player who's speaking pops up. You can set this window anywhere on the screen so that it doesn't hinder the flow of the game. As an example, when a member of your actual party asks for cure you just click on the window and the appropriate spell to help him.

We want to offer a service which is fully integrated within the game and user-friendly for newbies. The hardcore gamers will get something more out of it thanks to some more specific settings. For example, it will be possible to get the sounds of the game through loudspeakers and redirect the vocal chat only to headphones. Or you can set the balance on the loudspeakers so as to decrease the level of the ambient sounds when someone's speaking. We're highly excited by the development of that kind of tool.

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Eurogamer: What can you tell us about the dungeons in Lich King?

Jeff Kaplan: As was the case with The Burning Crusade, there will be dungeons to fit each level from 70 to 80. In fact, fans of that kind of gameplay will have been able to level up simply by playing through instances.

We're going to offer more ten-character party instances from the start. Some of them will feature different areas depending on the level of the players. For example that's the case with Utgard Keep, which has a wing reserved for level 70 players and another one for the level 80 - as well as an instance for a 25-character raid.

There will also be a return to the Caverns of Time where you'll find a Stratholme inspired from a mission of Warcraft III called The Culling. The players will have to set Stratholme on fire so that its zombie inhabitants don't contaminate the rest of the kingdom.

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Eurogamer: In the Burning Crusade you introduced a new PvP system. How will Lich King take this further?

Jeff Kaplan: The presence of open, large PvP areas is one of the main innovations brought in by the Wrath of the Lich King. These won't be instances, they'll be integrated within the various territories of the add-on and those not keen to participate won't be obliged to do so.

We're going to place siege weaponry within these areas and buildings or other elements these machines can destroy. That's definitely a huge novelty in the PvP game.

We're thinking of extending the concept of the Alterac Valley, which consists of retrieving marks on the enemies' corpses to exchange them for bonuses, but we still have to rack our brains to work it out.

Making World Of Warcraft

In part one of our exclusive look at how the biggest game in the world was made, key Blizzard developers took us through development from the earliest concepts to the game's launch. In the second and final part this week, we look at how Blizzard reacted to its unexpected success, and how it's changed in the years since.

Before the launch of World of Warcraft one of the game's lead designers, Tom Chilton, estimated that it might sell 750,000 copies - possibly even a million if the team really struck gold. "I don't remember a specific moment when it really hit me," he says now, "but I'd say that within the first six months or so, we realised that this was really going to blow away all of those expectations." It now counts over 11 million subscribed players.

Veterans of the first six months of World of Warcraft know just how badly the company that made it, Blizzard, underestimated the audience for the game. Servers filled to capacity, with immense queues forming as gamers tried to get online to play their characters. Blizzard struggled to get new servers online, but supply couldn't keep up with demand - each new realm that appeared filled up straight away.

"We were surprised by the number of people that jumped in and wanted to play, certainly in those early months, that first year," recalls Blizzard's vice president of creative development, Chris Metzen. "There were a whole bunch of hard lessons to learn."

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One of the earlier content patches added atmospheric realtime weather effects to the game.

"It stressed us operationally," admits Chilton. "We didn't plan for that kind of success in terms of our server infrastructure or our data hosting, all that kind of stuff. It really stressed us, and it freaked us out a bit: 'Oh my God, is our game going to collapse under the weight of the number of people trying to play?'"

Meanwhile, the creative team had to try to distance themselves from the operational problems and focus their minds on the updates which players were already demanding. The breakneck pace of the last 12 months of development barely faltered when the game launched, as the team's energies had to be refocused on patches, new dungeons and, crucially, the player-versus-player features they had longed, but failed, to implement for the game at launch.

Chilton, a veteran of Ultima Online, knew that WOW's rudimentary PvP wouldn't cut it for very long. As he'd expected, players learned to make their own fun - largely in the form of giant battles which raged between the towns of Southshore and Tarren Mill, turning the Hillsbrad Foothills zone into a no-go area on PvP servers - but his plan for PvP would move it from open-world events to instanced Battlegrounds, in line with the team's vision for "Battlefield 1942 meets Warcraft III" combat.

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The Zul'Gurub dungeon was the first successful experiment with a smaller raid size of 20 players...

The decision to launch Battlegrounds which were separated from the game world was controversial - but Chilton is adamant that it was right. "Instanced battlegrounds have provided a much better experience for players than non-instancing would have," he insists. "Having come from working on Ultima Online, which was entirely non-instanced, having experienced what can be compelling about non-instanced PvP there - that also taught me a lot of the problems that go along with it.

"There is what I would call a fantasy of world PvP - raging world battles that are meaningful, players taking control of stuff and so on," he says. "What I have found over the years is that that fantasy is really cool from a very high-level perspective, when you're looking at the game from a god point of view. But actually making that fantasy work, making that fantasy play out in a way that each individual person feels like it was satisfying... That's not something that anybody has solved yet. It wasn't something that we thought that we were going to be able to solve.

"We felt like instancing was the only way to make sure that the fights were fair, because what happens in that fantasy of world PvP is that the fights are never fair. Ultimately, that ends up breaking the experience for PvP in general."

As the game was launched around the world and its audience continued to grow, and as the PvP and raiding endgame continued to take shape, Blizzard started looking to the next giant challenge. An expansion pack was inevitable - but first, there was to be a major change at the top of the WoW team.

Most of the key people on the game were long-time Blizzard staffers, and new blood was being sought to bring a new perspective. That led to the hiring of J. Allen Brack, who is now production director on the game. An MMO veteran, he had been working on Star Wars Galaxies for several years before jumping ship to Blizzard - where he was dropped in at the deep end as the team geared up production on what would be one of its best-loved updates, the stunning level 60 raid dungeon, Naxxramas.

Naxx, as players would quickly dub the dungeon, was the last major content update to the original World of Warcraft. For Brack, it would be a rapid baptism in Blizzard's development philosophy, as he observed the team's comprehensive post-mortem of its previous major content launch - the raid dungeons of Ahn'Qiraj - and its handling of feedback from the player community.

But as the game's audience stretched into the millions, picking through the sheer volume of feedback became difficult. "It's an imperfect process, definitely," Brack admits. "We have a lot of different types of inputs - our community team and what they find on the boards, our customer service team, our cadre of friends who play the game, or players we know well...

"I think the team is actually very good at taking those inputs - hundreds of thousands of them, literally - and coming up with changes to make, things to do and not to do. Could we do a better job? Absolutely - but I think this is something the team is actually very good at."

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 3

...But it accidentally gave rise to the vicious "Corrupted Blood" plague that decimated low-level characters.

Chilton, for his part, isn't intimidated by the large community. "If you're trying to use the forums as a good source of ideas, then sure, it's harder to have that big community because you're looking for a very small signal in a lot of noise. But if you're looking for the noise, then it helps, because the the noise for certain topics is so clear and so obvious - you know that this is what people really care about, this is what they're really upset about right now."

The content update cycle for the original World of Warcraft ended with Naxxramas. The team's focus now moved to new territory - the launch of WOW's first expansion pack, The Burning Crusade. The scale of the expansion would dwarf previous updates to the game, providing an entire new continent for players to explore.

"Really, the main thought was just that we definitely wanted to add ten more levels of content," explains Brack. "WOW is a content game, so we were trying to think of the types of content that players want to experience, whether they know that they want to experience it or not."

For Chris Metzen, the expansion represented an opportunity to push the creative boundaries of what World of Warcraft was. In creating a whole new continent - in WOW's mythology, actually the shattered remains of a different planet - the team would be able to create something radically different.

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 4

Burning Crusade's London launch drew bigger crowds than those of for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii.

"Burning Crusade was a strong removal from the tones and values of Old World Azeroth," Metzen says. "You had broken, burning, alien landscapes, primordial fungal swampland and giant crystal spaceships - these were definitely far out, comparatively.

"If you had never played [Warcraft II expansion] Beyond the Dark Portal all those years ago, if you knew nothing about those concepts, it was pretty funky, right? Even internally, we went round and round on whether this was the right idea, whether it was too far away from what our players would expect. Just how far can you push away from people's expectations - both our own and those of the players - before you have alienated them?"

In order to keep players involved, improving WOW's storytelling was especially important, says Brack. "Giving players the idea of an overarching story... of these villains and the reason why you're doing this stuff - that's much more present in Burning Crusade than it is in the original game."

It wasn't just the setting that was off the wall. One of Brack's favourite innovations in Burning Crusade was the invention of bombing run quests, which send the player on flying sorties over enemy territory. "That just started out as a crazy idea," he recalls. "Some guys made this bombing run, and I saw that and just felt, holy crap, this is amazing. It's the first time that you get to kill hundreds of units all by yourself - you feel very powerful. It's an awesome, epic moment."

Tom Chilton, too, viewed the expansion as an opportunity to make radical changes - changes he'd debated for a long time, as some of the flaws inherent in WOW's Battlegrounds and PvP honour system became apparent to him.

"The honour system was one of those things where I think we made a mistake in our original philosophies," he admits. "Both Rob [Pardo, Blizzard's design chief] and I had pretty strong feelings that we didn't want just a grind-based system, a system that was based entirely on time investment. We wanted to be able to rank PvPers based on success."

It didn't work, because the team didn't want to punish players for being "ganked" - dispatched by far more powerful opponents. Just as WOW doesn't subtract experience when you die, it doesn't subtract honour when you are killed by another player, because the game has no way of knowing if it was a fair fight. As a result, Chilton acknowledges, "it turned into a competitive grind, meaning that time investment still mattered the most. On a weekly basis, it was a question of how much more time you could put in than the other person.

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 5

Outland provided vistas you'd never have seen in the original game...

"We ended up realising that, OK, we really need to separate the competitive system from the grind system - we can't try to jam those into the same system. That's how the Arena system evolved, with the chess-style rating system where we really control the scenario. We were able to use that as the measurement of skill in PvP, while we could use Battlegrounds as the fun activity that you could grind out points in and get stuff."

The launch of the Burning Crusade on January 16th, 2007, confirmed just how insanely popular World of Warcraft had become. Over 2.4 million copies were sold in the first 24 hours after its launch, stretching to over 3.5 million within the first month in Europe, North America and Australasia alone. At the time, it was the fastest-selling computer game ever - a record it would hold for almost two years.

Nonetheless, the same in-depth post-mortem process which Brack had witnessed in operation on Ahn'Qiraj and Naxxramas was brought to bear on The Burning Crusade, and the team found plenty of room for improvement. Some of the things they learned would have an impact on the next expansion pack. Others, however, caused more urgent problems.

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 6

...But some of Burning Crusades best questing and storytelling were to be found back on terra firma, in the new races' starting zones.

One of those things was the immense and almost immediate success of Karazhan, a ten-player dungeon which was launched as part of The Burning Crusade. The team had debated hotly the decision to drop the raid size from 40 to 25 in the expansion, with this smaller dungeon a mere afterthought. As it turned out, the sweet spot for many players was neither 40 nor 25 - it was ten.

"We were very surprised by the success of Karazhan," admits Brack. "It's probably one of the most popular pieces of content, just in terms of number of players that have experienced it, that we've ever done."

That success upset the team's plans to push ahead with 25-man raids, in the form of the massive Black Temple, but it was too late to change course. "We made a mistake in releasing Black Temple when we did," says Brack. "If we could wave the magic wand and go back, we would have released ten-man Zul'Aman, and then Black Temple afterwards."

There were problems brewing, too, for Chilton's PvP systems. While players had embraced the Arena combat, enjoying its highly skill-based nature, there was discontent over what were termed "Welfare Epics" - high-level gear which, as far as many players were concerned, was being handed out like candy to PvP players without having to put in the kind of effort that raiding players needed.

"The path of least resistance for the player base was that PvP allowed you to get gear easier than PvE," Brack admits. "In the Burning Crusade days, the PvE stuff was very hard on the 25-man content side. It took a lot of coordination and a lot of effort, and it felt like, on the PvP side, it didn't quite have the same level of commitment, the same level of expense, of time, of everything that you needed to have."

"The idea of having ten-person raids and 25-person raids in Lich King stemmed directly from the popularity of Karazhan and the realisation that people really liked ten-man content," says Brack. Simultaneously with the updates to The Burning Crusade, Blizzard had started work on the second expansion Wrath of the Lich King, which would return the action to Azeroth and bring back Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne's major villain, Arthas, the Lich King.

"A lot of people's comments were, I never got to see Illidan! I never got to do that content - he's the big boss, he's in the intro of Burning Crusade, but only the very highest-end guys could ever really get to see him," says Brack. "We thought, OK, what if we make two versions of the same thing and give more players that opportunity?"

Meanwhile, new technology created for Wrath of the Lich King would give Chris Metzen and his creative team new tools for storytelling. At last, the static world which had given him so many creative headaches before the launch of the original game was going to become a little bit less static.

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 7

The team regret not releasing the 10-man Zul'Aman dungeon earlier, to capitalise on the success of Karazhan.

"We developed technologies that allow us to push the envelope a little bit: the phasing technology," Metzen says. Phasing, which allows players to move seamlessly and in large numbers between world-states, was exemplified by the spectacular starting quests for Lich King's new character class, the Death Knight.

"If you play through the Death Knight experience, we make great use of phasing in terms of concluding certain chapters of the story. The world begins to change and the plot can really change on a dime with phasing. It frees us up to construct less of a static world," Metzen says. "If you play through the old-world quests, and then you play something like Wrath of the Lich King, I think it's so much more rewarding and satisfying - from a fictional standpoint, from a game design standpoint. You can definitely see us learning on the job."

It's not just quality but quantity which has increased. "WOW at release had about 2000 quests," reveals Brack. "Burning Crusade had 5500 quests. Wrath of the Lich King has, I think, around 8000 quests - and those are on just ten levels, versus the first 60 levels in the original game."

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 8

One of Arthas the Lich King's many cameos in the expansion that bears his name.

Another facet of storytelling which Blizzard has learned on the job is how to handle its villains. From hiding Illidan away in a deep dungeon in The Burning Crusade, the team moved into Lich King with the intention of making Arthas much more of an out-and-about, man-of-the-people kind of bad guy.

"The big villain needed to be much more accessible," confirms Brack. "You can see a lot of those changes in how we handle Arthas in low-level quests - and there's an entire chain of quests in Icecrown that players can do at level 77 where you actually get to control Arthas, to live through his story.

"There's the Culling of Stratholme where you actually fight beside Arthas, before he becomes the Lich King. You see his moment of decision, the moment he decides to start down the dark path. Those kind of things help people to understand why they're here, what it's about, what they need to be doing. This is why I'm conquering Northrend. This is why I'm levelling up - beyond just wanting better gear and achieving the next level."

Not everything that went into Wrath was brand new, however. One important decision harked right back to the beginning of Brack's tenure at Blizzard. Naxx was back.

"It was one of the most popular dungeons that we've ever made," says Brack of the floating necropolis. "The encounters were awesome, really well done and well tuned, and the players loved it - but so many players didn't get to experience it. Getting that out in front of more players, having more players experience it and being able to have other players have that same kind of shared experience... that's really compelling from both a game developer and a game player standpoint."

Tweaked and updated, and now divided into both 10-man and 25-man versions, Naxxramas was to be the first raid dungeon players would encounter in Wrath of the Lich King. Despite being based on an existing dungeon, Brack confirms that "many, many work-weeks of effort" were involved in getting it up and running - a time commitment which makes the team wary of player petitions to update other old favourites, such as Molten Core, to "Heroic" level 80 versions.

Other ideas in Wrath were the culmination of many years of effort and experimentation - most notably the variable difficulty level of the Obsidian Sanctum raid, where players can decide how difficult they want the encounter to be by killing or ignoring any of three drakes during the battle with the dragon Sartharion.

"The three drakes that we did with the Obsidian Sanctum is something that we've wanted to do for literally years," reveals Brack. "We've wanted to have an encounter that you could beat in different ways, and depending on if you beat it the easy way or the hard way, you would get better loot. We tried once with the Twin Emperors in Ahn'Qiraj, but that didn't really accomplish the objective. We tried again again with the Twins in Sunwell - we learned a lot from that, but Obsidian Sanctum was the time when we really feel like we nailed not only the difficulty, but the reward versus the effort."

Wrath of the Lich King launched in November 2008, and to nobody's great surprise, it became the world's best selling computer game - shifting 2.8 million copies in 24 hours and overthrowing the record set two years previously by The Burning Crusade.

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 9

Naxxramas - the dungeon so good they made it twice.

Today, the Blizzard team is working on content updates for Wrath of the Lich King, but is undoubtedly also plotting its next expansion behind closed doors. Five years down the line, you have to wonder if deja vu is setting in - but the team's enthusiasm for creating more WOW seems not to have dimmed.

"Every time out, we want to outdo ourselves," says Metzen. "We're certainly aware of the competition, the amazing games that have popped since WOW came out - just stunning vistas, stunning world visions - and certainly we want to be competitive. We want to provide a vision for our fans that is as good as anything else out there, but really, we have always been our own worst critics.

"As a group of artists and designers, we always want to outdo ourselves, and really stretch ourselves, get outside of our comfort zones and really push this thing, maybe by inches, into new territory."

Art director Sam Didier chips in. "Warcraft is really fun to create art for because anything goes," he says. "We now have motorcycles in World of Warcraft! We have giant guys running around on mammoths next to guys that are on gyrocopters next to guys who are on transparent nether-drakes..."

'The Making of World of Warcraft' Screenshot 10

Vehicle combat is one of Lich King's more controversial innovations.

"With giant crystal spaceships from other planets crashing down," Metzen interjects.

"I don't know that we ever decided to do this, specifically, but what has happened over time is that WOW has become the kind of fictional exercise that can substantiate almost any whim," he continues. "We want to go and chase crazy Cthulu mythology or Egyptian art sets, we can do that. It'll handle it. Like Sam said, if we want to chase gyrocopters and motorbikes and steam tanks, it can handle that. Somehow the fiction has developed into a playground, or a sandbox if you will, that can really integrate almost any goofy idea we want to chase.

"My great hope is that we can continue to push the boundaries, and continue to show players visions of this world and of this franchise that they do not expect, and that we continue to take risks with this world overall," Metzen concludes. "I think that's where we're going to maintain our integrity as artists - and really just take people for a ride."

World OF Warcraft : Dragons Raid Guide

Ryan Laverick

2 March, 2009

agons. Wise, majestic and graceful beings entrusted by the Titans to watch over Azeroth in their absence. If you have even a cursory knowledge of World of Warcraft, you'll know that dragons frequently play an important part in events. However, today we come not to praise them but rather to bury them, for majestic they may be, but all too often they're either irredeemably evil or completely insane (usually both) and, more importantly, they tend to carry a fabulous amount of gold and loot on them.

While there are scores of dragons in Northrend, there are currently just two top-level raid encounters available for players looking for a change of scenery from Naxxramas. - Sartharion, in the Obsidian Sanctum, and Malygos, in the Eye of Eternity. We'll look at both in their 10-player incarnations.
The Obsidian Sanctum

Let's start with Sartharion, the Onyx Guardian and his trio of Twilight Drake cohorts, Tenebron, Shadron and Vesperon. Between them, they guard the Black Dragonflight's latest little science project - a clutch of Twilight Dragonflight eggs. They can be found in the Obsidian Sanctum, which you can travel to via a portal below the Wyrmrest Temple in Dragonblight.

Why do we care? Officially, because a race of vampiric drakes gadding about the place would be a Very Bad Thing. Unofficially, the aforementioned fabulous amount of gold and loot.
The basics

The Sartharion encounter presents an unusual challenge in that it essentially has four levels of difficulty to choose from. In addition to Sartharion himself, the three Twilight Drakes found inside the Sanctum can each be killed beforehand or left alive for when you attack Sarthation. If you opt for the latter, each drake you haven't killed provides various buffs to Sartharion and debuffs to the players, making the fight considerably harder depending on how many you've left alive.

If you choose to kill all the drakes before engaging Sarthation, you won't have much to worry about. Alone, he has all the usual dragon characteristics - a flame breath that hits for around 10k damage, a (somewhat weak) cleave, a stunning tail whip and a generally withering contempt for any "lesser beings" intruding on his baby-sitting assignment. In addition, there are also the following to consider:

* Lava Wave: a tsunami of lava rises up from either the north or south and washes over the island, bar for a couple of gaps players run to to avoid it. In the most basic form of the encounter it knockbacks players caught in its path, and leaves a debuff causing a moderate amount of damage over time. In more challenging forms, it will pretty much kill any player it hits within a few seconds.
* Lava Strikes: small lava bombs caused by cyclones in the lava surrounding the island, a minor annoyance in the main, but they can be dangerous in the harder versions of the encounter.
* Lava Blazes: fire elementals that spawn randomly from Lava Strike impacts. They only have 28k health, hit like your grandmother and will need to be tanked and killed. However, if hit by the lava wave, they enrage, increasing health by 40k and dealing four times as much damage.

The main danger from the fight comes from the lava waves sweeping across the battlefield, as players not only have to make sure they avoid them, but ensure the Lava Blazes do as well. Other than that, all that's left to worry about is the final per cent, where Sartharion goes berserk in a last ditch attempt to stop the raid from killing him. Stay cool, don't panic and you'll finish him off.
The drakes

That's the easy way; the hard way is somewhat different. By leaving one or all of the Twilight Drakes alive, you introduce numerous factors into the equation. Each drake brings his or her own bag of tricks to the party which increases the threat posed by Sartharion as well. Once you pull Sartharion, the raid is immediately afflicted with debuffs from each drake still alive (The Power of Tenebron, Shadron or Vesperon respectively) and they will join the fray at certain intervals.

In Tenebron's case, she lands 30 seconds after the pull and presents arguably the biggest DPS test of the fight. Like all the drakes, her direct attacks are limited to melee, a shadowflame breath and targeting players with bright blue void zones, but she also has some unique abilities too. The Power of Tenebron is an aura doubling any shadow damage the raid takes, making the void zones fatal for anyone caught in them when they detonate. Additionally, some 15-20 seconds after landing she will open a twilight portal and hatch a clutch of eggs inside, the whelps from which will swamp the raid roughly 15 seconds later. The key to tackling any version of the fight with Tenebron up is to kill her before she spawns a second wave of whelps, as the whelps inflict a stacking armour reduction debuff on whoever they hit, meaning the person tanking them is going to be as strong as tissue paper if a second wave piles on.

If you haven't killed him either, Shadron will swoop down and join the fray 75 seconds after the fight begins. Shadron's unique abilities are the Power of Shadron, an aura that doubles any fire damage taken and which presents the biggest threat to the raid, as it makes Sartharion's flame breaths on the main tank practically unmanageable without resorting to whatever cooldowns the tank and the raid possess in order to survive them. Additionally, Shadron also opens a twilight portal inside which an Acolyte of Shadron can be found channelling the Gift of Twilight - a buff that makes Sartharion immune to harm and grants him 50 per cent more fire damage (note that when killing the drakes before engaging Sartharion, this will be cast on Shadron instead). Combined with the Power of Shadron, Sartharion's flame breaths begin to get alarmingly high...but wait! It gets worse!

If alive, Vesperon will land at the 2 minute mark. His aura, the Power of Vesperon, reduces everyone's maximum health by 25 per cent and, like Shadron, he will open a twilight portal where an Acolyte of Vesperon will channel a spell called Twlight Torment, which affects everyone. Twilight Torment makes an already difficult DPS race that little bit tougher as it increases shadow and fire damage taken by 75 per cent, and causes damage to a player whenever they deal damage themselves. By now, Sartharion's flame breaths are reaching one-shot territory, even on a well-geared tank, while dual shadowflame breaths on the drake tank are likely to cause a few scares too.

Naturally, while all of this craziness is going on, the raid still has to deal with other things as well, such as Lava Waves, Lava Strikes, Lava Blazes, and Lava Trucks. Okay, maybe not Lava Trucks. Finally, for each drake that is killed, Sartharion's damage will increase by 25 per cent, so by the time you finally get around to tackling him, your tank is going to be taking some pretty heavy hits.

Three's a crowd

Sartharion alone or with a single drake is fairly forgiving in terms of raid composition. If attempting with two or all three drakes up, a reasonably balanced raid for the encounter will look something like this:

  • Sartharion tank: this guy is going to need a massive amount of health and mitigation, and be ready to blow whatever cooldowns are available to survive the insane damage of the flame breaths.
  • Twilight Drake tank: this benighted soul has arguably has the toughest job of all, having to dodge void zones and tsunamis while tanking and moving two drakes at a time for the crucial part of the fight.
  • Lava Blaze & Twilight Whelps tank: ideally someone tough who can put out enough damage to kill most of the Blazes on their own. They'll need to be aware of Lava Waves and keep the Lava Blazes away from them.
  • A damage dealer who can tank in a pinch: a feral Druid, DPS Warrior, retribution Paladin or Death Knight - basically someone to enter the portals and keep the Acolytes from annihilating non-plate-wearing DPS and healers.
  • Two dedicated healers, and a third specced for damage but able to switch to help raid healing after Tenebron is down, such as an elemental Shaman or a balance Druid.
  • Three damage-dealers of your choice, ideally with strong area-of-effect capabilities and geared well enough to put out at least 3400 damage per second on a single target.

Scared yet? Well, no one ever said it was going to be easy.

'World of Warcraft: Dragons Raid Guide' Screenshot 2

Have your Sartharion tank make the pull, and take him to the south-east corner of the island, at the buffing spot. This allows the tank to move easily between Lava Waves, while keeping the rest of the island nice and open for everyone to cope with the upcoming chaos. Damage at this point is unimportant as Sartharion isn't a concern until all the drakes are dead, so just leave them to it and get the drake tank, healer and DPS over to the west of the island for Tenebron's arrival.

Just before or after she lands will be the first of many Lava Wave tsunamis. The tank should grab her and move her down to the south-west/southern part of the island while DPS go all-out off the bat - if someone gets aggro, taunt it right back and pray she doesn't breathe on anyone while it's going on, but it's imperative that as little DPS time as possible is lost, as she must die before the second wave of whelps hatch without fail, so holding back isn't really an option. While all this goes on, your blaze/whelp tank will be running around gathering strays and wearing them down as best they can. Unfortunately, the number of Lava Blazes that spawn is completely random, so it's possible your blaze tank may get overwhelmed, but they'll just have to deal as best they can and try and hold out until Tenebron dies - your DPS can't really spare the time before then.

Depending on your DPS, Shadron will fly in and land when Tenebron's between the 50 and 25 per cent mark. The drake tank must pick him up, but focus on keeping maximum threat on Tenebron, who will hopefully be close to death but probably also close to turning on the DPS. If she dies before hatching a second wave of whelps, the tank should drag Shadron around the island to the north position while the raid AOEs down the whelps and Lava Blazes in the middle before turning attention to Shadron. If you have it, now is a good time to use Bloodlust or Heroism.

45 seconds after Shadron lands, Vesperon will land at the north point of the island and quickly open a portal, causing Twilight Torment to be applied to everyone. This is the make-or-break point, as the amount of raid damage will be taking a terrible toll on your healers' mana, and the Sartharion tank will be close to running out of options to mitigate the flame breaths. The DPS/healer should switch to full-time raid-topping at this point, as the DPS will come close to killing themselves in their efforts to kill Shadron. If Shadron dies, quickly pick off any Lava Blazes, then all DPS plus the hybrid healer should enter the portal to take down the Acolytes, beginning with Shadron's. Beware when the second Acolyte is close to death, as once dead, everyone inside the portal will be dumped back outside - so if there's a tsunami on the way, there's going to be trouble.

Once the Acolytes are dead, the hard part is done, and you're almost there. Finish off Vesperon, take out any Lava Blazes and the new Acolyte (if another should spawn) and collect yourselves for a moment. Throw out any Innervates and combat resurrections if available and required, and get ready for the finish straight!

By now your main tank will be back to 100 per cent health, and the flame breaths won't be anything like the object of abject terror they were earlier. However, Sartharion will be dishing out 75 per cent more damage overall, so don't take him too lightly. Depending on your setup, you may want a tank with better avoidance and mitigation to taunt and take over, but it's not strictly necessary. In any case, just keep calm, stay alive, keep the Lava Blazes under control, avoid the tsunamis and wear him down. Remember, he goes berserk at 10 per cent, but it's still quite mild compared to most other bosses' freak-outs.

So, still scared? It's understandable - this 10-player version of the fight is far more demanding than its 25-player equivalent, and arguably the most tightly-tuned encounter since the notorious M'uru from the Sunwell. You really need to be on your toes and geared out as best you can - but the beauty of it is, it's only as hard as you want it to be. If you feel it's asking too much of your group, you can decide to go just with two drakes or even one.

Sure, you won't get the mount reward, but you will still get extra drops (including one equal to 25-player gear if at least two drakes are up), so you're only really missing out on a vanity item. If you do decide to just go for two drakes, I suggest killing Shadron off beforehand. Firstly, you'll have 90 seconds to deal with Tenebron and the whelps before Vesperon lands - that gives you plenty of breathing room. Secondly, your tank won't be at risk from the crazy flame breaths as neither the Power of Shadron or the Gift of Twilight will be present.

But where's the fun in that? Two drakes are for gnomes and Pernod-drinkers. You know what you have to do.

The Eye of Eternity

'World of Warcraft: Dragons Raid Guide' Screenshot 3

Residing in the Eye of Eternity, a location accessible only via a portal in the Nexus, Malygos, Lord of Magic and head of the Blue Dragonflight, orchestrates the war against all Azeroth's magic users. As far as Malygos is concerned, the lesser races (i.e. you and me, and especially gnomes) shouldn't be dabbling with magic, so he's decided to put a stop to it. Unsurprisingly, this has upset more than a few people, so the Kirin Tor of Dalaran have tasked you with entering his lair and convincing the all-powerful and knowledgeable Guardian of Magic of the error of his ways. Naturally, you do this out of a sense of civic duty, community pride and concern - the veritable treasure trove of riches and magical artefacts Malygos has acquired over the millennia plays no part in any of this at all. No, none whatsoever.

Until Ulduar arrives soon, The Eye of Eternity serves as the final encounter of the current player-versus-environment content, a three-stage fight against the Spell Weaver (Malygos has more titles than rogues have stuns). Phase one is more or less a tank-and-spank; phase two consists of killing adds and staying alive while the entire raid is bombarded with magic damage; phase three is similar to the final battle of the Oculus, with every member of the raid riding a ruby drake to end the threat posed by Malygos once and for all.

Unlike the other raid encounters in Northrend, the Eye of Eternity does have one prerequisite before you can attempt it. One player in the raid needs to have retrieved a quest item from Sapphiron in Naxxramas - the Key to the Focusing Iris - and handed it in. Once done, that player can start the encounter. There is no trash to clear beforehand, and the fight itself has a 10-minute time limit. As gaining possession of the quest item indicates, the raid is expected to be reasonably well-geared and capable of defeating the majority of Naxxramas bosses before tackling Malygos.

Phase One

Once able players activate the Focusing Iris in the centre of the arena, Malygos will fly down and attack the raid. Like most dragons, he has a cleave, but unusually he does not have a tail swipe. His breath attack does upwards of 18,000 damage in an arc to anything in front of him, and additionally causes a DOT that explodes for 10,000 damage to anyone within 10 yards. Every so often he summons Power Sparks that appear at the edges of the arena and travel slowly towards him. If they reach him, they increase his damage by 50 per cent. However, if killed, the sparks drop an aura onto the ground that grants 50 per cent damage to all players standing in it instead. They can be stunned, snared and rooted and can also stack twice, so should any overlap, the raid's damage output can rise considerably, making this a rare fight where threat really can be a problem if people aren't careful.

While most of his attacks are aimed strictly at the tank, Malygos does have one highly damaging raid-wide attack to call upon. Every forty seconds he will turn away from the tank, lift off and create a vortex that sweeps all players up high into the air and deals roughly 20,000 damage over 10 seconds before dropping everyone into the centre of the arena. This is unavoidable unless you are a Rogue with Shadowstep or a Warlock, who can drop a Demonic Circle down beforehand and teleport to it while everyone else flies around overhead. While the vortex is active, any Power Sparks in play will stop moving.

Phase Two

Once his health reaches 50 per cent, Malygos walks to the centre, takes off and gives a little speech about underestimating you, after which he becomes untargetable - but he will still take damage until he finishes the speech, so give it all you've got for as long as you can as soon as hits 50 per cent, as aggro is no longer a concern while he's in the air. Note: if he's causing a vortex when he goes under 50 per cent, he will finish it first, so there's extra time for DOTs to tick on him.

Once he finally finishes talking and flies away, a group of Mages will appear on hoverdisks and attack the raid. Some will float above the arena firing Arcane Barrages at the raid (the Scions of Eternity); others at ground level will engage the raid directly (the Lords of Eternity). When killed, both Lords and Scions drop their disks onto the ground, at which point players can mount them and fly to engage the remaining Scions. Even better, players riding these hoverdisks take no damage unless all ground targets are dead.

Meanwhile, Malygos will bombard the raid with Arcane Storm blasts, dealing 10k to whoever they hit along with a knockback. Occasionally he will also cast a Deep Breath at the centre of the arena for 5 seconds, dealing 5000 damage every second. Fortunately, this can be mitigated by standing inside the shields created by the Arcane Storm charges, which look like big pink bubbles. A word of caution - when running for cover inside these anti-magic shields, do not jump into them. This causes issues with the server not realising you've actually crossed the shield's threshold, so you end up taking full hits from the deep breaths and anything else that hits you while seemingly safe.

Phase Three

'World of Warcraft: Dragons Raid Guide' Screenshot 4

Once all the Lords and Scions are dead, Malygos flies into a rage and returns to face the raid. Pausing only to give yet another speech, he shatters the arena completely, causing the raid to plummet through space to their deaths...

..or not, because the cavalry has finally arrived! Each player is picked up by a Ruby Drake, at which point you have full control over them and their abilities, which are:

  • Flame Spike - spits a fireball at the target, gives a combo point.
  • Engulf in Flames - consumes your combo points to create a DOT on target causing 1500 per tick, lasts longer depending on however many combo points were on the target (5 max). Can stack unlimitedly
  • Revivify - a heal-over-time that heals the friendly target over 10 seconds, gives a combo point. Stackable (5 max)
  • Life Burst - consumes your revivify combo points to give a 15k heal to everything within 60 yards.
  • Flame Shield - consumes your combo points to generate a shield to reduce damage taken by 80 per cent, lasts up to 6 seconds depending on the number of combo points on the target.
  • Blazing Speed - boosts movement speed for a few seconds.

There are various ways to handle this: some surround him in a circle, others group up in one spot with those on healing duty using Life Burst to outheal as much of the incoming damage as they can - but this leaves the entire raid vulnerable to the effects of the Static Fields that Malygos will periodically envelop players in (not really a problem as long as everyone moves quickly). The bulk of Malygos' damage comes from his Surge of Power blast, which is targeted at a single player who must shield him or herself, just as he finishes casting, or else take about 72k damage over the space of 3 seconds.

Essentially, the phase boils down to this: the designated healers heal the raid with Revivifies and Life Bursts while the rest try to get their personal stack of Engulf in Flames on Malygos as high as possible, with all being ready to use their Flame Shield if Malygos targets them with a Surge of Power. One example of this is to use two Flame Spikes, wait for your drake's energy to reach 80 energy, cast Engulf and repeat unless you are targeted for a Surge of Power, in which case activate your shield (hence waiting for your drake's energy to reach 80 again, so you have enough left for a shield if needed). Although confusing and disorientating at first, it really is that simple.

If you find yourself struggling with it and want more practice on riding the drakes, the Aces High! daily quest found on the upper rings of the Nexus is little more than a Phase 3 training mode, should you need it. Really though, just keep building the Engulf stack or healing everyone depending on your role, move away from Static Fields and shield yourself if necessary and you'll be fine.

It won't look like you're making much impact at first, but once the Engulf stacks reach higher and higher amounts, Malygos' health will drop very quickly and he'll soon give up the ghost, whereupon you can pick his corpse clean - that is to say, rest safe in the knowledge that you have saved the world, again. Alas, there's no time to sit back on your laurels as word is something evil is stirring in Ulduar. An adventurer's lot is rarely a peaceful one...

Rabu, 18 November 2009

History of Dota

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