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A Shanker’s Tale: Hanging Out in Hyjal

firelands

Bonus points if you get the reference! Yes, welcome back to Cataclysm content, specifically the burnt-out ruins of Mount Hyjal, ravaged by the Twilight’s Hammer and, more specifically, the Firelord, Ragnaros. The zone throws you straight back in to the battle against Deathwing and his allies, tasking you with aiding the Green Dragon Aspect, Ysera, in summoning the ancient spirits back to Azeroth to help combat the Twilight threat.

The first thing to know about Hyjal is that it’s a gigantic step up from Northrend in terms of gear and difficulty. The opening quests give greens of slightly lower ilevel than Heroic Icecrown Citadel gear – for those who’ve just quested through Northrend, like Illirica, some of the rewards are twice the ilevel of what they’re replacing. Combined with a couple of early quests in very packed areas, and it’d be very easy to die repeatedly here, if you don’t have Vanish.regrowth The rewards come thick and fast, however, and it isn’t long until your gear is more appropriate for the challenges.

The questlines in Cataclysm content are broadly linear, and Hyjal is no exception. You begin by saving the three ancients, Tortolla, Goldrinn and Aviana before moving on to begin restoring some of the damage done by Ragnaros by invoking Aessina, in a very dramatic phasing change to the zone. At the end of the zone, you go undercover in the Twilight’s Hammer (in my case as “Illiricadamus”) in order to save the legendary general, Jarod Shadowsong. These quests are very amusing, as they show exactly what a shambles the Hammer is. Well, we weren’t expecting excellent organisation from an insane doomsday cult, were we?

druids

Imagine how long it took to farm all that tier 5.

Finally, with the ancients restored and Shadowsong to lead them, Ysera finishes summoning Cenarius so that we can go on the offensive and force Ragnaros back in to the Firelands.

Cenarius leads Hamuul and Malfurion, together with our hero, in to the elemental plane of fire to do battle with Ragnaros. After dodging fire waves, killing adds, and doing an awful lot of stabbing, the Firelord is finally banished to the darkest, most hellish depths of patch 4.2, never to be seen again.

rag

Rogue shown for scale.

Done with Hyjal, Illirica is at the top of level 82. Off to Deepholm next – though whether I stay for the duration, or head off to Uldum as soon I level is up for debate. I certainly want to do Uldum.

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A Shanker’s Tale: Gratuitous Castle Shot

zuldrak

Castle!

I decided on Zul’drak, for our next stop. I enjoy the troll lore as a whole, so this is a zone I enjoy. It’s particularly fun to remind myself of the origins of some of the 5.2 stuff that’s rattling around, so a-trollin’ we went. The zone focuses on the struggle between three main groups – the Scourge, led in the area by the Troll Death Knight, Drakuru, the Argent Crusade, and the Drakkari Trolls. The questlines here give a real insight in to the workings of the Scourge.

drakuru

You have failed me for the last time, Drakuru!

Drakuru has his forces set up as a strict meritocracy, with those that succeed in their tasks being promoted, and those that fail being executed. Brutal, straightforward, and entirely free of mortal concerns.

It also shows exactly how desperate a people can get, when faced with this implacable foe, with the Drakkari having sacrificed many of their own Gods in an attempt to gain enough power to be able to stop the invaders. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go too well.

I enjoyed bringing about Drakuru’s comeuppance, and the foreshadowing for the Lich King’s ultimate plan that comes from the resolution to that questline. Amazing no one really saw it coming, with the dialogue there.

After Zul’drak, I headed off to Sholazar. Because, really, I haven’t killed my quota of local wildlife on this continent. The Nesingwary Expedition will sort that out in no time at all!

sholazar

Nice neighbourhood. Leafy. Needs castles.

There isn’t much to Sholazar, really, besides helping Nesingwary hunt everything that moves. There is of course the questline assisting the Avatar of Freya in her investigations in to how the Scourge have managed to invade a supposedly safely warded area of Icecrown. Needless to say, cultists did it. I had no interest whatsoever in pursuing the Frenzyheart/Oracles quests, so headed off to Icecrown for the final stretch of Northrend.

icecrown

Castle!!

Icecrown, of course, starts with the Argent Crusade attempting to force a beachhead in the heartland of the Lich King. You fight through hordes of Scourge, kill several bosses with the assistance of various Death Knights from the Ebon Blade, and finally establish a base on the glacier itself, at Crusader’s Pinnacle. Later in the zone you take over more and more of Arthas’ holdings, until you’re finally at the gates of the Citadel itself.

I love Northrend, as I’m sure you can tell, so it’s a shame to leave it behind. Still, Illirica is level 80, and that means I’m off to Cataclysm content once more. 80 also heralds the arrival of Mastery, and each spec‘s burst cooldown, both excellent additions to the Rogue’s arsenal. Which is almost complete, now! Very few new things left to get. In other Rogue news, I’m intending to try out Combat a bit in the coming zones, primarily because it’s the only spec I haven’t touched at all so far. As everyone knows, you can shank with swords. It’s just a little awkward, is all.

Hyjal!

A Shanker’s Tale: The Frozen North

nexus

I love Northrend every bit as much as I hate Outland.

Borean Tundra was always one of my very favourite zones. From the landing, and The Many Faults of Garrosh Hellscream through to helping the Kalu’ak and attacking the Blue Dragonflight at Coldarra, I love nearly all of it. So, consequencesIllirica does nearly all of it. One of the main highlights for me are the interactions between Varok and Garrosh. Both their little conversations about strategy in Warsong Hold, and the lengths Saurfang goes to to make sure everything goes well – including showing up to solo a Necrolord and about a hundred Scourge, seemingly so you can claim the credit and show young Hellscream that the Horde has hope on this campaign. It’s magnificently well done, and I hope there’s more of these two together in the future – possibly in 5.4?

mrrglThere is, of course, also the Murloc disguise suit. Which is surely the best model in any videogame to date. It’s a shame there’s (to my knowledge) no vanity item that changes you in to the disguise. I feel like they missed a trick, on that one. At least I can take screenshots of it in amusing poses, for posterity.

My last favourite in Borean Tundra: D.E.H.T.A. Even better now that the formerly group quests are easily soloed, I love helping these guys out. It always seemed odd to me that there are so many quests to hunt animals, for reasons from “we need food” to “I want a new cloak”, and no one taking issue with it. D.E.H.T.A sends that up perfectly, particularly with the dialogue from the various Nesingwary minions you fight through the line.

dragonblight

I’m not such a huge fan of Dragonblight, but I still like it enough to stop over. I especially wanted to do the Wrath Gate questline, and was disappointed to discover that half of it has been removed. I suppose this makes sense from a plot advancement point of view, but it’s nonetheless a very odd decision. All of the other world events are left trapped in amber – everyone in the old world is still banging on about Deathwing, everyone in Outland talks like you just arrived to defeat Illidan – so I don’t understand why they felt the need to remove this. As it is, the story is dropped before Putress’ comeuppance, and anyone who didn’t see it in it’s original state is left to wonder what exactly happens afterwards.

Though to be fair, anyone who wasn’t around in Wrath probably won’t find it. The requirements to even unlock the cutscene are extensive.

After Dragonblight, Illirica is level 75. Another talent! For the time being I’ve opted for Dirty Tricks. This allows me to CC someone – a mob, or an annoying tank in PvP – for a long time, while my Deadly Poison and Rupture kills them. Very handy, and I’m looking forward to Mastery at level 80 to make it even more effective. I can see it being the talent of choice for going out and doing things on your own, but Paralytic Poison or Prey on the Weak are probably better for organised PvP.

I’m also (provisionally) finished with Wrath engineering, having hit 425 without needing a single piece of Saronite. Engineering is certainly a lot more streamlined now, and hasn’t been any kind of a hardship to level.

Next up… I’m not entirely sure. Maybe a bit of Grizzly Hills? Zul’drak then Sholazar? Decisions!

A Shanker’s Tale: Outland

hellfire

Yes, welcome to 2007 and welcome, one and all, to Hellfire Peninsula! It’s red, it’s sandy and… oh, I can’t be bothered. It’s tired, drab, and I don’t want to be here anymore. If there’s any area in the game in need of an overhaul in the post-Cataclysm world, it’s Hellfire Peninsula. Followed closely by “the rest of Outland”. If I could skip it, I would, but as that isn’t on the cards, I chose instead to throw myself at the issue with gusto.

questing

Anyone have an Elixir of Ancient Knowledge?

In all honesty, I skipped most of Hellfire through heading to Outland at 60, and doing a lot of Zangarmarsh. There’s little to recommend these zones as a whole, the only noticable changes from 2007 being the change to group quests, allowing them to be soloed. It’s welcome, as they provide a lot of experience, but the whole place could really use an overhaul. Dungeons and PvP certainly help, but PvP doesn’t provide massive exp unless you’re winning constantly, and dungeon queues can be very slow for a DPSer. I probably should’ve gotten on that pet battle experience train, before it was nerfed!

Anyway, we’re basically glossing over Outland, here. A few hours of questing circuits, a couple dungeons and an awful lot of PvPing later, and Illirica hit 68. Time to escape to Northrend. Still older than what I’ve been doing, but a lot less objectionable, in my opinion.

Rogue stuff! Little to report, really. Those High Warlords Razors were an excellent investment, as they’ve lasted all the way through Outland. 68 does herald the arrival of Preparation, which is of course an excellent tool for PvP, particularly for situations where you’re caught without Vanish out in the world. A quick note on world PvP – there’s been very little of it, to date. The most notable encounter so far was a Discipline Priest that nuked me from 100% to a Cheat Death proc in a single cast of Penance. Thanks, Vanish. Tank and Healer damage in general seems massively out of whack at the lower levels, honestly, but that’s a discussion for people with a lot more experience (and interest) in it than me.

A Shanker’s Tale: The Melange

winterspring

I completely forgot to take any scenery screenshots in Winterspring, so here’s a gratuitous shot of Illirica’s sick duds in front of a rare ice giant.

As with Thousand Needles, the most important thing to know about Winterspring is that it’s full of ore. Thorium, to be precise. There are spawns all around the walls of the zone, and it was very easy to gather the 200 or so I needed for leveling Engineering, without really going out of my way for it. The other thing to know is that it’s full of goblins, only some of which want you to exterminate the entire local animal population for delicious smoked meat treats.

animals2Having asked you to kill ninety three animals in this quest chain, the questgivers don’t even eat the foot they made at the end of it. Horribly wasteful, really.

The primary questline in Winterspring focuses, as you might expect, on the corruption of the area and things that have been going wrong since the Cataclysm. You eventually track the disturbances to Mazthoril, where the mage Umbranse has been opening portals to other dimensions, making for an interesting trip through a cave, fighting demons and creatures from other worlds.

Winterspring done, I headed off to Silithus.

sillyfuss

Silithus is… Silithus. There are a lot of bugs, some extremely dead world PvP, and only nineteen quests for the zone completion achievement. It wasn’t very interesting, and didn’t get me to level 60. Blasted Lands, then.

blackmorass

snaaake

Snake? Snaaaake!

Now, this did used to all be trees. Though there are a lot more trees than there used to be, around here. The main questline in the Blasted Lands is the same as it ever was, though it’s a lot shorter, and a lot more accessible than it’s previous iteration: the battle against the demon, Razelikh the Defiler. There’s also some Alliance/Horde conflict here, most notably in the Nethergarde mine, featuring a darling quest with some obvious influences.

All of that, and a quick trip to the Darkmoon Faire, netted me level 60. Overall, I’ve enjoyed my trip through the new old world – it’s a lot better than it ever used to be, for sure. There are one or two problems (most notably those constantly stunning monsters in Thousand Needles, and a slight over-reliance on vehicle mechanics) but, in the end, nothing is perfect.

As Illirica is level 60, she gets another talent. Despite being sorely tempted by Cloak and Dagger, I’ve opted for Shadowstep. Being able to use it out of stealth is the main reasoning – the mobility is very important for PvP. If I was levelling purely from quests, I would probably pick up C&D – I may switch between the two a bit. If I go Subtlety, it’ll be with C&D. I’ve also made use of all that PvP I’ve been doing, and picked up a pair of High Warlord’s Razors. They’ll probably be replaced fairly soon, but every little helps.

Right, what’s next? Are we ready to go after Deathwing, after running around Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms fixing all of the problems his Cataclysm caused. Wait. What’s that? Oh no.

Welcome, all, to January 2007! It’s time for Outland!

Reports from the Front: Wreckin’

wreck

So, this happened last night. Warsong Gulch, the Rogue 5.2 buffs have gone in, we have a lot of healers/hybrids and the Alliance team is a bit ropey. Why not try for a big score, Illirica?

deathmatching

Deathmatching in midfield dot Joint Photographics Experts Group

Massive thanks to the healers here, particularly Místy-Thunderhorn who spam healed me through a Cheat Death proc while I was throwing caution to the wind to get the last couple of kills before the timer ran out. Shout out to Kalue-Frostwhisper for delaying his cap long enough for me to finish it off, too!

The Assassination buffs are amazing – 5% passive damage through Assassin’s Resolve on top of the extra 20% on Envenom and 15% on Dispatch is great. Combined with the extra talents and abilities I’ve unlocked on the last few levels, I feel capable of winning (or at least drawing) 1v1 fights reliably. All in all, PvP is looking up, after dragging a bit through the 40s.

A Shanker’s Tale: Tink, Tink, Tink

raceway

Once, all this was trees. Well, no. It was mostly dust and bickering Goblins and Gnomes. Now it’s water, pirates, and bickering Goblins and Gnomes. Welcome to Thousand Needles!

The zone begins with everything being overrun by the Grimtotem tribe of Tauren. Fleeing from the area you arrived in, you’re taken to Fizzle and Pozzik’s Speedbarge. Which is awesome. Goblin hijinks ensue, including putting out fires, sinking attacking pirate boats, and bribery. Notably, as the zone is almost entirely underwater, an awful lot of quests involve fighting beneath the waves. This is made bearable with a simple buff, the Speedbarge Diving Helm, removing the need to breathe underwater, and allowing you to move at 160% speed while moving along the seabed. This is perfect, and essentially the only way to make protracted underwater zones workable without driving you totally insane.

tink

Technically this is Truesilver.

Also notable in Thousand Needles are the ore veins. Mithril. Lots and lots of lots of Mithril. I took the opportunity to mine enough of it to complete the Mithril stage of Engineering, leaving me only needing Thorium before heading to Outland. It didn’t take at all long, in the end, even with some competition from level 90s farming there. Underwater speed boosts are a great leveler, against higher level competition.

Having worked through the Speedbarge’s many, many issues with pirates, you’re dispatched back towards the middle of the zone, to clear out the Grimtotem from Freewind Post and it’s environs. These quests have an NPC ally attached to you, who issues and completes quests. Theoretically, he’s supposed to help fighting as well, but mostly he stands and watches you stab things, until something actively attacks him. Luckily, nearly all of the Grimtotem have an AoE stun, which causes your helper to aggro. Being stunned so regularly does become irritating however – I’m sure there could’ve been a better way to do it.

Once you’re done with the Grimtotem, you’re sent to save their leader, Magatha, from the Twilight’s Hammer. These are the first quests I’ve found that have you outright opposing Deathwing’s forces, and they are quite spectacular, from assassinating their leaders, through to finally defeating the elemental they’re attempting to empower.

In all, Thousand Needles was… mixed. I loved the Speedbarge, but could really have done without the Grimtotem quests – there’s only so many times you can be War Stomped before it gets really old, and the NPC not doing his job capped it off. The Mithril helped, though. So much Mithril.

arteries

Done with Thousand Needles, I headed south to Tanaris. And was greeted with a whole questline of this. Amazingly, about the only thing you aren’t told to mechanically reclaim is Zhevra. It wouldn’t be so bad, if not for the Butcherbot’s colourful emotes, which range from mechanical grinding sounds to the downright psychopathic. All in all, not one to do while you’re eating.

After all that (and some Random Battlegrounds), Illirica reached the heady heights of level 50. At 45, I selected my third talent – Cheat Death for now, though I can certainly see the use of Elusiveness for the constant damage reduction. One that’ll depend on the situation, I think. Level 50 also brings another spec-specific mechanic, Venomous Wounds for Assassination. Importantly, it’s also the level Subtlety gets Honor Among Thieves, one of the main mechanics that was missing from it last time I tried, so it may be time for another swing at it.

The final stretch before Outland, now, starting in Winterspring.