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Brought to You By the Letter "S"
Though the way to 70 was open, Shadowmoon Valley... was not. And that was where the flying mount vendors were supposed to be, so it did kind of defeat the point of having content like Tempest Keep (un-summonable, floating in the sky) available to test if you couldn't actually get there. So, for the time being, we were all grounded.
I was doing my quest thang in Netherstorm when a guildie asked "Hey, we need one more for Steam Vaults, right at the first boss... anyone interested?" I think about it... sure, why the hell not. Good XP, good experience. Maybe some good lewts, too! So I say I'm in, and fly to Zangarmarsh. But then I remember that meeting stones can summon, and so they summon me. Huh, that was pretty efficient. Time to get my Steam Vault on!
It's really not clear what Lady Vashj and the Naga are up to, to tell the truth. In Hellfire Citadel, you see that Kargath Bladefist and the Fel Horde are making more Fel Orcs via the blood of Magtheridon. Each wing of Auchindoun has its own separate story, with the renegade Ethereals to the Sethekk civil war to the evil Draenei Death Priests (and the Shadow Labs, but that's later!) ... even Tempest Keep... well, we know that Kael'thas is siphoning the mana from the Twisting Nether for something-presumably to turn into Magic Crack.
But, unless I've severely missed something, it seems like Lady Vashj and Company are just draining the marshes in Zangarmarsh... uh, just because they can. There also doesn't seem to be an overarching theme through the dungeons, though this may just because I don't know what they're trying to do. In Hellfire, you have the Ramparts, which are the outer walls and the first guard lines of the Fel Horde. Makes sense, right? The Blood Furnace is where the Fel Orcs are actually created from the captured Mag'har, and the Shattered Halls are where the Orc leadership resides.
Meanwhile, the Slave Pens are where you have... slaves doing... something. And the Underbog is an underground bog. I guess that the Steam Vaults are vaults for, uh, steam. Why you'd want to vault steam, I have no idea. Them Naga are crazy like that. While the individual dungeons are pretty cool, Coilfang Reservoir doesn't currently have the cohesion that, say, Hellfire Citadel does-and I'd like to see this change before it goes live.
There are lots of mobs in the Steamvaults, but it turns out that you can avoid a lot of them just by going to the right and hugging the wall. This is good, because there are wandering patrols of five water elementals-one elite, four non-elites... and the non-elites like to shoot a Waterbolt for 2000 damage. Ouch. So, those are better off avoided.
The first boss is Hydromancer Thespia, a Naga Witch with two Water Elemental bodyguards. One of us has done the fight before, so we know what to expect. The elementals do Frostbolt volleys, so they need to die quickly-thankfully, we've got a Warlock, so hooray for Banish. Thespia herself has two annoying abilities. The first is Lung Burst, a randomly-targeted DoT that does some nasty physical damage over time (it's also a creepy concept when you think about it... drowning somebody in open air. Gah... /shudder). She's also got a Hurricane spell that's a lot bigger than the graphic shows, and since it hits for about 2k that's awfully painful.
It's not an easy fight if you don't have a Warlock, and if people die early on... well, that's a Very Bad Thing because the Lung Burst/Hurricane in addition to the Frost Volley and her normal melee damage makes it kinda intensive on healer mana. Not saying it's impossible, but losing a DPS class early certainly makes it a rough fight (I'm looking at you, Mr. Rogue...)
With a Warlock, though, the Water Elemental drops quickly and so does she. We activate the console behind her, and I'm not entirely sure what it does, but whatever.
We go back and move up... there are Naga here, but I've got my trusty Polymorph: Pig, and they're not much of a problem. We do find out the hard way that there are spellcasters that like to AoE silence as well as Fear, but they drop like a sack of potatoes with bricks inside, so that's all good.
There are more Draenei slaves here, and when you aggro the Slavemasters they attack you. Unlike their brethren in the Slave Pens, though, if you don't actually damage them they de-aggro upon death of their captors and joyfully run away, free. See, these ones AREN'T completely stupid. Hooray for that.
Further in, we come across... leper gnomes! Huh. I have absolutely NO idea why the hell there are leper gnomes allied with the Naga in Outland, but ... ah hell, I'm not going to question this anymore. AoE time, they die, and it's time for Boss #2.
Speaking of Gnomes... it's Mekgineer Steamrigger! Small gnome, big robot. And then they form Voltron.
...Blizzard, we need a Voltron boss. STAT.
Steamrigger isn't too bad, and certainly has more room for error than the Hydromancer. He shoots buzz-saw blades randomly, and every 25% spawns non-elite leper gnomes to repair him, but they're easily killed and the buzz-saw damage is dealt with rather easily. "...mommy..." is probably one of the most awesome death quotes in the game, though.
We activate the second of two controls, and make our way to the final boss chamber, dealing with the damn Naga all the way. After a few packs of the serpent guys, we come face to face with Warlord Kalithresh, servant of Lady Vashj. According to the guy who's done this before, he's easy, and kind of like Buru. There are these little tanks along the walls of the room, and apparently we just have to kill them and he's cake.
Of course, when we pull and find that they aren't targetable, it's kind of confusing. He has a random Impale, which does 500 damage every 3 seconds (and stacks if you're unlucky to get targeted before it wears off), but doesn't seem to have any other important abilities.
Until he yells and starts channeling a spell to the nearest tank. Which, by the way, is now attackable. However, we don't get it down before the spell finishes, the tank explodes... and he gets big and red. Just out of curiosity, I throw Detect Magic on him. There's a new buff on him... that increases attack speed by 100% and increases physical damage by 75%.
And guess what? If you miss another tank... it stacks.
So Kalithresh is pretty much a long-term fight, slow DPS on him (because he reflects spells occasionally)... and then as soon as he starts channeling, kill the HELL out of the tank. Everyone attacks it-tanks, healers, whatever. That tank needs to DIE. If it doesn't, well, you die.
I try to avoid the wipe, but because Blizzard hates me, Kalithresh targets me for Impale with 1 second left to go on the fade. Sigh.
Now that we know what to do, though, we down him. Fun fight, and intense on the "omg kill it nowwwww" front.
And with that, I'm done with the Steam Vaults! But, because I decide to do as much as I can to satisfy your desire for LEET BETA INFOZ (and 1.5k experience per kill while rested is certainly fairly awesome)... time to go dungeoncrawl some more. So, to Hellfire Citadel it is-and the Shattered Halls!
Apparently, ol' Kargath Bladefist (leader of the Shattered Hand) was turned into a Fel Orc, and, like Rend Blackhand, believes that his Horde is the true one, and that his claim to Warchief is the only legitimate one. Of course, we can't have that, can we? So... go kill him.
The first time I ran the Shattered Halls, it was around 4 AM. Being kinda out of it due to lack of sleep, the Shattered Halls felt a bit strange. It was fun, to be sure, but it always felt sort of odd, because I never exactly knew what was going on. It makes a lot more sense when you're fully awake, but there are still some parts that make you go "...quoi?"
Or at least, they would, if you were French.
The first thing you see upon entering the Shattered Halls is a group of Orc sentries in a staggered column down the hall, while a Legionnare patrols up and down. You can actually pull the first two without aggroing any others-but they immediately respawn. We pull the Legionnare (and get the first two as adds, but no others) ... and after killing him, they don't respawn anymore.
So much for his pep talks, eh?
There are actually a bunch of pulls like that all throughout the zone-they all respawn until you kill the Legionnaire. The average pull size is pretty big, too, around 5 or 6. Since the first time I did this, we were all 67, it was rough.
The Halls are, as the name would suggest, a series of long straight halls.
As you progress down them, there will be a call to arms and then five or six Fel Orcs will rush into position in front of you. This happens a lot, and is especially frustrating at 4 AM. Especially given the fact that they hit pretty damn hard. We eventually figure out that you can Mind-Control one of them as a Priest, and then use its healing abilities to keep your own party alive while removing it as an enemy threat. Nifty.
We clear down, fighting the Orcs, and then come to a door, beyond which we can see the first boss-Grand Warlock Nethekurse. However, it's locked and won't open. We're puzzled, but find a drain to the right, and drop down into the sewers. Like every sewer in the game, it's filled with slimes that require AoE. Naturally, they keep spawning, so it's very difficult to get out of combat.
This is the first part that's kinda weird, because it goes from being all red/black/BWL-ish to being blue, green, and Naxx-ish. And immediately after this little tunnel part, it goes right back to normal. I can't really think of any other dungeon with such a shift in aesthetic scheme (and no, Mara doesn't count!). After we move on, there's a tunnel leading up to Nethekurse's room.
There's another surreal part here Grand Warlock Nethekurse is in the room, and there are four nonelite Fel Orcs that he's torturing, Fearing, and doing whatever. Of course, the five of us expect that we'll have to fight them all at once, and so our tank shoots one of the Orcs and we prepare to fight. Nethekurse, however, says that we can "have that one." We kill the Orc, and he does nothing. With the second and third, he just lets them go again. After killing the fourth, he does aggro, angry that we've taken all of his playthings. But... it seems kinda pointless to have the first three there, because they certainly aren't hard to kill or anything. I guess they're just establishing atmosphere or character, but... yeah.
Nethekurse himself is a fun fight. His main ability should be fairly recognizable to anyone who's ever fought Kurinaxx (though it's graphically more similar to Kel'Thuzad's version)... he puts a mark on the ground beneath a player, and after a second or two it starts doing pretty severe Shadow damage to anyone still standing on it. So, you're moving around fairly constantly. He also likes to Death Coil, and will occasionally use it on the tank, dropping aggro for a few seconds.
At 20%, he stops doing all of this and just starts spinning around and shooting Shadowbolts, so then it just becomes "FULL DPS TIME." All in all, a cool fight, if not too hard.
Once he's dead, the door that was previously locked opens. You can also go on, which, of course, we do.
This is another strange part. After a little ramp up with no mobs, there's a room with a single Scout, and then another long hallway. Once the Scout sees you, he sounds an alarm and runs-and then you get a constant, unending stream of Orcs spawning down the hall. We stay and fight for a few minutes, unsure of what to do, before we're running out of mana and retreat to Nethekurse's room (stopping the spawn). We go back and then just run all the way down the hall, gathering all the spawns we can... and there are four more at the end, we just gather them all up and AoE. It certainly worked, though at the time it didn't feel clear if that was what was intended.
There's yet another hallway, with Orc Gladiators dueling on each side. The trick we found is that you can wait for them to beat each other down to under half health before pulling-or else they'll stop combat and regen to full. It certainly makes it significantly easier, I can tell you that!
Continue on, slaughter Fel Orcs. Boss #2 is Warbringer O'mrogg, a two-headed Ogre. At level 67, he's hard to fight simply because he hits decently hard and a level 67 tank has trouble holding aggro. Over that, though, he's pretty easy and I hope that they buff him, because he's certainly one of the more entertaining bosses in the game.
During the entire fight, his two heads are arguing with each other. If he changes a target, for instance, you hear "Me get bored..." "But he almost dead!" It's pretty damn amusing, and to hear the heads curse each other with their final breaths is worth a laugh.
From the second boss, there's only a short hallway and then a raised arena where Kargath Bladefist himself awaits.
At the time I ran this, he was... slightly bugged. One of the main parts of the fight is that he'll use Blade Dance and charge all around the Arena ever so often, dealing significant damage to anyone he passes through. Of course, at the time, this meant that anyone inside the arena would take about 5k-6k damage, which is fairly painful. He also spawns adds one at a time, though in the version I fought, he stopped spawning around 25 or so.
So, we used a fairly cheesy method. We ran past the arena (incidentally, there were three friendly mobs there, a Tauren, an Orc, and an Undead... though we couldn't interact with them and I didn't have any quests. Huh.) and he reset, since it's obviously not intended to fight him outside of the Blade Dance zone. We then fought him with the tank on the top of the steps in the arena, and everybody else down the steps out of range of all but the outermost Blade Dance point. When a mob came, we killed it... and then after all the mobs spawned, we just burned him down.
Obviously, that's not how the fight is intended to work, and I can see that it could be pretty intense if forced to deal with the entire Blade Dance as well as a nonstop mob spawn, but I've not done it since they changed it (assuming they have), so I don't really know how it works now...
Anyway, with the Shattered Halls done, I return to Nazgrel who says that we should take this to heart-even a hardcore awesome Orc like Kargath Bladefist can still be corrupted. So be careful.
Eventually, after heading back to Netherstorm and picking up some more quests, I see a group looking for the Shadow Labyrinth-the final Auchindoun wing-and hook up with them.
Boy, Blizzard sure likes creating dungeons that start with the letter "S," don't they? I mean, back in Azeroth, the acronyms that players use... there are lots of "RF-" and "-FK" (think about it... really). I guess this is their scintillating surprise sensation for the silly saps who sell their souls to salivate over the... sgame.
Ok, I'm done with that.
The Auchindoun instances, as I mentioned before, all have their own little mini-stories as opposed to the overarching plotlines in the other dungeons. There's no real connecting theme, but each wing manages to tell its own story. Shadow Labyrinth is probably my favorite of the level 70 wings (not counting Tempest Keep) and the best Auchindoun dungeon, and I really enjoy it.
Auchindoun was an Orc base that the Human campaign had to destroy back in the Warcraft 2 expansion. However, that wasn't when it became such a desolate ruin in the middle of a dead land... two years ago, a group of cultists that are known as the Cabal decided to try and summon something. Whatever they tried to harness obviously backfired on them, though, and made Auchindoun what it is today.
I wonder if we'll find out what it was? Nah, probably not. That'd just be silly.
Incidentally, what the hell sort of name is "The Cabal?" That's like naming your guild "The Guild" or something. I'm surprised they aren't opposed by a faction called "The Faction" that you need to gain Faction faction with.
The Shadow Labs, as we call them, are wonderfully atmospheric. It's on the longer side for a BC dungeon, but not to the point of annoyance. In the first big room, we skip most of the mobs by hugging the left wall, since NPCs are clearly too stupid to notice us killing their allies not 30 feet away from them.
There's a room with large patrolling demons as well as various cultists that, despite having the same mob name, are either melee, ranged, or casters (and since you don't know which pre-pull, it requires adapting on the fly). The first boss, Ambassador Helmaw, is a large Doomguard-ish demon at the end of the room-apparently, the Cabal is allying itself with the Burning Legion.
By the way, the giant Felguard enemies are annoying, because they have tons of HP, keep dropping aggro, and have a tendency to fear. Big blue bastards.
Helmaw himself isn't particularly hard, and we work on clearing the next room-a big open chamber that looks pretty damn cool.
There's a large Ogre by the name of Blackheart the Inciter at the top of the stairs, and due to the nature of the fight with him, you have to clear both sides of the room. Some large pulls that require good CC (or a lot of DPS and healing), but nothing that we can't handle.
When it's time to fight Blackheart... well, the Ogre himself isn't really hard at all, and he's your standard boss. However, every minute or so he mind-controls the entire party and forces you to attack each other for about 8 seconds. Which, of course, generates plenty of havoc (by the way, I recommend NOT doing this fight if you have two Mages. Just a bit of advice).
Actually, we barely win this, and there are only two of us left standing when Blackheart falls. I blame our Warlock, because he's overpowered and killed the rest of us.
Moving on, there's a large hallway with piles of bones all along the sides. Of course, it isn't a creepy lair for a doomsday cult without the bone piles. Didn't you see the Martha Stewart special?
One of the more amusing parts of the dungeon is that there's a type of enemy that transforms into a mini Core Hound when they get low on health (phew! It just wasn't feeling like WoW without the two-headed dogs!)... and level 70 Mages can Spell-steal that buff, turning into dogs themselves. I don't think it actually gives any benefit, but it's certainly funny.
There's a third boss waiting at the end of the hallway, one Grandmaster Vorpil, an Orc Warlock. This is an interesting fight. He does the standard Warlocky things-Shadowbolts, teleports everyone and himself to his original spot and casts Rain of Fire... but the trick to the fight is that he constantly spawns Voidwalkers all around the room from every direction. If they reach him, they explode for about 2k damage and heal him significantly.
The problem with the Voidwalkers is that, while they initially spawn very slowly, the speed starts increasing as the fight goes on longer. I'm not sure if this is a timing thing (and can be prevented by killing him quickly) or if it's based on his percentage, but when we did it, it was almost impossible to kill the Voidwalkers quick enough, because they were just spawning too fast. We eventually just bursted him down, but it was close.
Beneath Vorpil's altar is a book called the Codex of Blood that provides some context to the Shadow Labyrinth and the goals of the Cabal. It's written in a rather Lovecraftian manner, speaking of horrors unnamed. Well, one is named, and it's called Murmur, a being of pure sound that could kill with but a whisper. The Codex tells the story of a civilization that foolishly tried to harness Murmur's power, but found out that summoning a creature that can kill you if it makes a single sound is usually a bad idea.
Of course, you can see where this is going. As we round the next corner, we see a gigantic hallway, and at the end is the very same Murmur.
Apparently, the Cabal is having a bit of trouble with them, as he keeps nuking them out of the way. We kill the orcs and prepare to fight Murmur.
Now, as you can probably see from the pictures, Murmur is big. It's clearly a version of the old Ragnaros / Thunderaan model with different textures and weapon/face graphics... yeah, he's big.
He also starts at 50% health, so you get a sense of "Holy crap, what is this guy capable of at full strength?" a la Vaelastrasz.
I guess Murmur's power was overestimated or something (damn exaggerating evil-book-authors), because he certainly doesn't kill us every time he makes a sound. There IS a lot of sound in the fight, and if you listen carefully, every noise he makes when he attacks or gets attacked is a distinctly different pitch.
Like Ragnaros, Murmur is immobile and stationary. However, if nobody is in melee range, he sends out a nuke volley that hits for 2k nature damage and increases all nature damage taken by a further 2000. So, the next volley is 4000. And then 6000. So it really is in your best interest to have someone in melee range.
Murmur also has this explosion that he does, emoting that he gathers energy from the air... and after a few seconds of casting, he explodes, knocking anyone in melee range high up and dealing what appears to be a percentage of their health in damage (since it damaged both our Druid tank and our Rogue the same, and they definitely didn't have the same HP totals). He also puts a debuff randomly on a player that slowly deals minor damage to them over time... and then they explode doing AoE damage and silencing anyone in range. Finally, he has a single-target random blast that draws you closer to him (which, if combined with his big charge nuke, sucks).
The first time we fight him, we don't really know what to expect, and our tank and rogue die to the charge blast. We run back and discover that there's currently a bug in the system where going into stealth and targeting Murmur will cause him to aggro on you. We're at the end of the hallways, our Rogue goes into stealth, and then Murmur starts nuking us. We try to run into melee range but don't make it anywhere close.
Third time's the charm, though, and Murmur is vanquished! Hooray! It's also a damn cool death animation like Rag and Thunderaan. Hooray!
Though he's not hard per se, he's technical, and with the whole "okay, run out of melee range while he charges up, okay, back in! Watch out, you're the bomb!" things going on-in addition to his gigantic size-Murmur really feels like a raid encounter shrunk to a 5-man. It's a damn epic fight and just looks really freakin' cool. All in all, fighting Murmur is probably one of my favorite boss encounters in the entire game, and a lot of my fellow beta testers would agree.
Having run the three "S" dungeons, I've hit 69 at some point... time to finish up Netherstorm and grind out that last level.
Until then, good gaming to all!