For Instance: Cataclysm Dungeoneering

By Al Bickham on December 20th, 2010 at 5:13 pm.

A last missive (for now, anyway) from WoW’s front lines from our embedded correspondent. Catch up with Bickers’ previous thoughts here.

Hello again! Before I wiffle on about Cataclysm’s level 80+ dungeons, I just want to touch on a bit more of the experience I had on the way to 85.

If you’re playing Cataclysm, you’ve probably worked your way through Uldum in southern Kalimdor by now, and if you haven’t, I implore you to do so.

With its ancient Egyptian architecture, enemies and sense of dusty history, it’s probably the most atmospheric zone in the game to date, and remains thematically consistent from the opening quests, right through to its local 5-man dungeons. It’s pure pleasure from a levelling perspective, with a plethora of off-the-wall quests and fun vehicle-based missions. There’s even a couple of RTS moments in there, one where you control a pack of lions, and another where you order ranged and melee units of the catlike Ramkahen people to defend a temple. And barrelling through ancient ruins in a giant fireball with the express intention of killing 1000 evil gnomes had me in stitches.

But by far the highlight is the enormous Harrison Jones quest-chain, which is Indiana Jones homage from start to finish. For the Alliance, Harrison is first encountered in the Stormwind Records Office as the besuited archaeology trainer, explaining to his students that majority of archaeology is done in the library. Ring any bells?

Hours later, and you’re running around cavernous burial chambers while he swings from statues with his whip and activates ancient mechanisms with a veiled purpose. His arch-enemy Shnottz, who speaks with a ‘comedy’ German accent and, it must be noted, looks a tiny bit like Hitler, dogs his every step. There’s even a scene where Harrison is fist-fighting with a bald, moustachioed, muscle-bound Shnottz soldier in front of the whirling propeller blades of an aircraft. I’ll leave the outcome of that one to your imagination. The hours-long quest chain had me hooked like a hungry trout right to its dramatic conclusion. Aside from the jolly times I’ve had with friends, it’s probably the most fun I’ve had in World of Warcraft, and it’s a neat conceptual dovetail with the new Archaeology profession.

Post level-80 dungeoneering begins in a quirky manner. Between 80 and 85, The Dungeon Finder tool is very specific about the dungeons it lets you enter, and as you gain levels, it closes off access to the lower 80+ dungeons. That’s a bit confusing at first, until you work out why it’s happening, or somebody tells you, as historically speaking, the game has never denied you access to content because you’re too high in level. This only applies to dungeons on normal difficulty rather than heroic, however, and the only reason for it I can fathom is that it means you’re not fatigued by those dungeons by the time you start running them on heroic difficulty.

Heroic runs are kept at arm’s length for a little while. The only way to unlock the higher difficulty setting for Cataclysm’s nine 80+ dungeons is to achieve an average gear-score of 329, and there are a couple of ways of doing this. Spending justice points earned through running instances on gear at the JP vendors, or simply looting gear from the dungeon-bosses on normal difficulty. What this really means is that your progress to the top-tier of gearing is throttled somewhat, and you’re kind of forced to run all those instances just to get to the next level of difficulty. I have absolutely no problem with this whatsoever, as it means I’ve been nudged into experiencing content I might not otherwise experience, as you have to run all the instances to get the required spread of suitably-rated gear across your entire outfit.

It’s also worth noting that critical-path quest-chains in 80+ zones also open up quests relating to the dungeons. These quests invariably result in drops that exceed item level 329. So if you really want to get into heroic instancing, you’ll find you’re rewarded by playing through the quest-content offered by the new zones. What’s more, most of this is compelling – and financially lucrative – enough to warrant doing even if you’re 85 and have no need of XP. Of course, you can ignore the zones you didn’t work through on your way to 85, and just grind normal-difficulty instances when you get there, but you’d be missing out on so much of what you’re actually paying for. Now I’m 85, I’m running instances, but I’m still working through the two zones I didn’t spend much time in between 80 and 85 – Mount Hyjal and Twilight Highlands – for the dungeon-specific quests they’ll spit out at the end.

The instances themselves have been a pleasant surprise, and a welcome injection of new bosses to tackle. Even on normal difficulty, it’s plain to see the challenge level has ramped up, and I’ve had some really tense runs where crowd-control and kiting have come back into 5-man vogue because they’re utterly necessary to success. Even the early trash-mobs in Uldum’s 7-boss Halls Of Origination need a tactical approach, because they’re big and chunky and travel in packs.

For me, part of the joy of a new expansion is learning boss patterns through trial and error. I don’t mind the odd wipe when the discussion of why it happened brings about a new tactical approach that works. It’s the sort of attitude you just can’t carry into large raids – for which you really need to have your shit wired – but for now, running Cataclysm’s normal-difficulty 80+ instances is a pleasure because every time I run one I’ve already run, I learn a little more method. There are a couple that I could run standing on my head now, and while I’m not some kind of method-nazi, I’m happy to impart tactics in a pre-boss huddle, and the whole group benefits.

I’m also just a couple of gear-score points off heroic runs, at which point I’m sure it’ll all change again. But for the moment, I’m content to run the Stonecore and knock heads with Slabhide, in the vain hope that he drops this little fellow… and I win the roll, for a change.

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57 Comments »

  1. Deano2099 says:

    And if you’re in the EU and want some nice people to run dungeons with, do join Rock Paper Saurfang on Aggramar. We’re mostly low level at the moment as we’ve all started new characters, so it’s a nice place to be:

    http://rockpapershotgun.com/rpsforum/topic.php?id=3821

    • Serenegoose says:

      Indeed! Apologies for my absence recently, I’ve been away, but I shall be back either tomorrow or the day after, Cataclysm clutched in my oversized Tauren fingers.

      Much recommendation for our guild, it is quite awesome. :)

    • DangerDeMort says:

      Hello there, this guild sounds like a wonderful buisness, from the Tauren-hands comment I understand that it is Horde. dare I ask if anyone is online, as I would very much love to join your merry band.
      Also, do you need a particular class of character more than other? – I have played most of the non-hybrid classes.

    • Duffin says:

      Considering joining you guys tommorow. Only thing putting me off is that your on a PvE server and I think I may find that slightly boring.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Fair enough. Couldn’t play on a PVP server myself – hate the stuff, avoid it whenever possible because I’m shockingly bad at it and bored by it.

  2. djbriandamage says:

    I dinged 85 and am still questing for fun and profit. Unprecedented in WoW since I quite disliked the quests in BC for being to grindy, and those in WOTLK for being too gimmicky. Cataclysm is the epitome of MMO gaming today and I’m enjoying every minute.

  3. Vayl says:

    Gnomebliteration is the most awesome quest on MMO history!

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      Faldrath says:

      This. This is pretty much the only quest that has ever made me think “I wish this were a daily”.

    • ANeM says:

      Really? I found Gnombliteration to be too long and largely excessive. Even in a group it took about 7 minutes of rolling around pointlessly. Not to mention the “Katamari” effect bugged out about 20 gnomes in and my ball turned invisible.

    • Coins says:

      The ball turning invisible was great. You had all these gnomes floating in mid-air, on fire!

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    It looks like Serious Sam to me.

    KG

  5. prinzipi0 says:

    i am not a doctor!

  6. Stephen Roberts says:

    I should be kinder on myself and not read these adulatory articles on a game that I do not allow myself to play, really.

    Well, I’m an idiot.

  7. Laggytoes says:

    Man, heroics are an absolute joy. Those things are so bloody hard.

  8. Koozer says:

    Using a Goblin at the moment, only level 19, but I cry whenever enter an instance for the memory of when it was an actual challenge. Now the healer and/or tank can go afk for 10 minutes and noone will notice.

  9. Hikkikomori says:

    Ok, this is seriously off topic but:
    The guy with the revolver in the “Fallout New Vegas” ad… does he have two left arms?

    He has two left arms! I scrolled up a couple of times while writing this. He has 2 left arms.

    It’s not some new mutation in New Vegas right? Cause that would be noteworthy. But i think it’s bad Photoshop more likely.

    Two left arms.

    • Jake says:

      Good spot, how odd.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Lord, he does! Yup, that’s some bad photoshop. Not only do Beth completely miss the point of a brilliant classic series, but they put no effort into advertising their pseudo-action games. Bah.

    • Wulf says:

      That’s… kind of ironic, actually.

      You see, their ‘action games’, or this particular one, was designed by mostly Black Isle people. Black Isle being the development house behind *drumroll!* Fallout 2! In fact, New Vegas is ultimately the best RPG I’ve played since The Witcher, and both of those are better than any other RPGs I’ve played within the last few years.

    • Tetragrammaton says:

      Since I only played Star Control 2 and King of Dragon Pass for the first time last year, I would have to say no. Plus FO2:NV is a wee bit mediocre to my taste. (As is its Advertising Art department, by the looks of things)

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Ah, I lost my temper a little there. I know it was predominantly designed by Black Islers, but they seem to have lost their flair somewhat. In my opinion, at any rate. I agree with Tetragrammaton, I found it far too mediocre. It was too akin to Fallout 3, and even Oblivion. I felt it had more action/shooty-bang-bang moments than what was good for it. But that’s just me.

  10. ScubaMonster says:

    All of those screenshots look pretty darned cool (minus the Indiana Jones one). Still, from what I hear, 80-85 questing is pretty lame. I also hated end game in the first place because I never liked raiding (nor did I like LOLarena). Basically the time investment involved, and pretty much being in a raiding guild is mandatory. Yeah, you can PUG the weaker raids, but, that still sucks because the quality of the group is too random. Wiping over and over again can take just as long if not longer.

    Also, I heard people praising the difficulty in the new raids, and I hear Blizz is going to nerf the difficulty. I called that one from the beginning, though I thought it might take a bit longer.

    • Aganazer says:

      Where did you hear blizz is going to nerf the difficulty? I heard quite the opposite.

      Quoted from two days ago:

      “There have not been any across-the-board nerfs to Heroics, let alone any changes made due to complaints about difficulty. We’re happy right now with the overall difficulty of Heroics, but that doesn’t mean we won’t make tuning adjustments to certain encounters or abilities if we feel they’re unintentionally over- or underpowered.”

    • afarrell says:

      I’m not sure what you want, ScubaMonster. The questing is actually pretty fantastic (not just 80-85, but all through the first 60 levels now), and as for end-game: yes, if you pug the raid, you’ll wipe, this is because they are Hard. If you can get some good players together (also: are good), then you’ll be engaging on an endeavour where coherence and team work will provide satisfying rewards. You know, like an MMO.

    • ScubaMonster says:

      @afarrell – I used to be in a raiding guild, so I’m very well acquainted with a proper raiding experience. The problem is it just takes too much work and scheduling. I don’t like having to schedule my playtime in advance. I’ve been in more than one guild, all of them worked that way. You don’t feel like going on a raid at that time, then you get passed over and are a lot less likely to be invited along or at least given a roll on gear in later raids. Sure, it might be fair that the regular raiders get first dibs, but that is a broken game mechanic that punishes those who don’t want to devote their life. A full raid clear can take a lot of time. Typically, most full clears I’ve been in took around 4 hours. That’s far more time than I want to spend essentially doing one thing, especially only for a small chance I might get something out of it.

      It’s not working with other players that’s the problem. I’d much rather it worked something similar to Public Quests in WAR. Even Asheron’s Call had areas that were sort of like raids, but it didn’t require a ton of planning or putting your name on a list in advance. People logged in, “Hey lets go do Aerlinthe” and off you went. I am just not a fan of the EQ style raiding system. I believe it is a dinosaur that’s better left to extinction.

      Also, in regards to questing from 80 to 85 (I don’t have Cataclysm, so only going by everybody else), it’s essentially a single player experience that doesn’t really encourage any grouping at all. Even more so than previously. So that goes against the whole “MMO experience” you seem to be advocating. In short, from many accounts, 80 to 85 is uninspiring and dull. It’s the revamped low level areas that are truly the bread and butter of the expansion.

    • Flint says:

      “it’s essentially a single player experience that doesn’t really encourage any grouping at all. ”

      And that’s why it’s great!

    • Deano2099 says:

      I don’t really know what you’re looking for as you seem to have happened upon an intractable problem.

      You either raid with friends and guildmates, in which case yes, you have to schedule your time in advance. Blizzard have made saving instances easier and reduced respawning to make it simpler to split raids up but yes, like anything in life if you want ten people to turn up to something at the same time, you have to schedule and arrange it to some degree. Whether it’s playing WoW or going to the pub.

      Or you play with other random people who are just online and have decided they fancy raiding at that precise moment in time. That’s also been made easier with the raid finder, but obviously you’ve no measure of how good a player someone is and if some people are useless the group could well be a disaster.

      One could perhaps add difficulty levels to the raids, which Blizzard have already done, but ultimately you seem to be arguing that raids should be simple enough that you can log on, find any nine other people, and play through one. In which you have to make it so trivially easy I really can’t see the fun in it.

      But then apparently you never liked raiding anyway. This food is awful. And such small portions.

    • malkav11 says:

      You should stop listening to those accounts, then. Hyjal’s a bit drab, admittedly, but Vashj’ir and Deepholm were pretty fantastic experiences and Uldum, as above, is even better. Not that there aren’t some awesome low level experiences now, but they’re still just that – low level. They haven’t the breadth and scope of the 80-85 content.

    • afarrell says:

      One things the raids definitely compare favourably to, for me, is those dreadful public quests in WAR. Because WoW raids are scaled for 10/25 players, they can actually be designed for such, and when I’m engaged in them I can definitely tell that I actually took part in an encounter and interacted with the mechanics, that I had a role and made a difference.

      The badge/point system introduced in WoTLK provides more of a guarantee that you’ll get something out of the raid, and the fights* have enough mechanics to ensure that you’re not just doing the same thing for four hours.

      As noted, if your sources are telling you that the levelling is dull, you need better sources. They work solo, they work in groups, they are a product worth the price in themselves (and let’s not forget that only a small number of people will ever get very far with raiding). But they don’t really require grouping, it’s true.

      *until they become trivialized by new content, as all things do – my guild has an agreement that six months after the release of Cataclysm we’ll go walk through ICC on heroic :)

    • malkav11 says:

      They actually do have some issues grouping. Weird phase changes, some things that should count for the entire group don’t, while things like hilarious conversations do count for the entire group with the result that only one person actually gets to do them…that sort of thing.

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      skalpadda says:

      Sounds like you simply don’t like the game or the genre. Luckily noone will force you to play, wohoo!

      The questing is pretty darn ace though, the best I’ve ever seen in an MMO, and what I’ve seen of dungeons, heroics and raids have been pretty well tuned with engaging fights.

    • The Hammer says:

      I’m actually not much of a fan of the new quest systems in the game.

      The problem is, in pursuit of an entertaining narrative and player involvement in the plot, Blizzard have sacrificed a lot of player choice, and Cataclysm tends to get very upset with you if you don’t play it the way it wants you to.

      For example, all five new levelling zones all function as one large quest chain which, if you want to level through questing, you can’t step away from. Fly over the rest of Hyjal or Deepholm as much as you like, you’ll never find yellow exclamation marks on your mini map. It means that everyone’s experience is homogenised, and the player has very little choice about how they progress through the final levels of the game: sticking around, for example, in Uldum once you’re 84 means that you don’t get much XP at all, because the XP that the Twilight Highlands quests give are in direct correlation to the huge increase of XP needed to go from 84 to 85.

      With the removal of class quests and chains that send you all over the world, Blizzard have shown that they don’t their players to not see any of their content the first time through. Thre is little difference between the Horde and Alliance quests up until Twilight Highlands, which, I understand, is considerably different on both sides. But it still speaks of very un-MMO like mechanics.

      I personally didn’t see what was wrong with Northrend’s system. The Howling Fjord, Storm Peaks, Grizzly Hills et al were consistent joys to play through, and allowed you a wide-ranging choice of what quest hubs and chains to tackle. There were certainly the main quest lines – the Wrath Gate, Arthas as a kid, Thorim and Loken – but again, these were optional. If you had a bit of XP to go before being able to go to Zul’drak, for example, you could just do the latter quests in Dragonblight.

      Cataclysm doesn’t give you that option. If you’re getting fatigued by Twilight Highlands, tough. As much as I’m enjoying the new expansion pack, that keeps nagging at me the whole way through. What path am I making for myself? One that Blizzard has defined for me.

    • malkav11 says:

      There are certainly fewer new areas in Cataclysm than in Wrath or Burning Crusade before it (let alone the old world), but as far as I can tell that’s the only thing holding you back from “making your own path” to the extremely limited extent the game has ever really supported that sort of play. The zones each have their own fairly rigid storyline arc, it’s true, but that’s nothing terribly new, just a bit more so than it has been in the past. There’s certainly not a 100% unavoidable, rigid order that those zones must be done in. I’ve not so much as glimpsed Twilight Highlands and I’m 1.1 million experience from 85, something I quite confidently expect to make up in the several dozen Uldum quests remaining to me. I’m pretty sure I could have omitted any single Cata zone entirely if I cared to, as Hyjal and Vashj’ir are clearly intended to fill the same role of introductory Cata zone and when I instead did both, I arrived in Deepholm at 83, whereas I could have skipped directly to Uldum. Or, at 84 at the conclusion of Deepholm, I could readily have gone straight to TH. But why bother? It’s all good stuff.

  11. Shagittarius says:

    I’m halfway from 84 to 85 and I haven’t been to Uldum yet, or know how to get there. As horde where do I go? On the teleportation platform it wont let me enter the gateway to Uldum.

    Pls help for realz, thanks.

    • BarkingDog says:

      There should be a breadcrumb quest from the hero’s call board in orgrimmar. If it’s anything like the alliance side you’ll then have to travel to tanaris, and after entering the zone and completing a short chain on the other side the portal will be open.

    • Bursar says:

      There’s a high level quest giver in south Tanaris. They take you through in a caravan. That’s how I got there, i didn’t use the board in Orgrimmar.

  12. BooDooPerson says:

    Best zone in the whole game! The highlight is recurring satire of 80s pop-culture icon!
    Is that more damning of the game’s authors, or the author of the article?

  13. Jimbo says:

    Wow, smooth. That probably got signed off by the whole QA department too.

    *megasigh* The two left arms thing ^^

  14. Longrat says:

    Well gee I sure hope there’s this much coverage when Guild Wars 2 rolls out

    • Deano2099 says:

      I’d imagine so. One thing I can say with near certainty is that there’s already been a lot more coverage in the lead up to Guild Wars 2 than there was pre-Cataclysm. Mostly because some of the core RPS writers are actually interested in playing the former.

    • Longrat says:

      Yeah, you’re probably right. I’m just kind of tired of hearing about WoW from everyone, as I’m desperately trying my best to stay on the wagon.

    • The Hammer says:

      I like how the second comments from people always reveal hidden factors about them!

      There really hasn’t been much WOW coverage on this site, if you follow the tag. This is an article series that goes up a few times a week. Perhaps you’re confusing WoW with Minecraft?

    • Longrat says:

      Yeah, I know, but for me any sort of WoW article is like waving that heroin in my face. And now especially with Cata, I can’t wait for this coverage to end so I can forget about those horrible days.

  15. malkav11 says:

    Also, Harrison Jones has been around significantly longer than his role as Archaeology trainer (that having been introduced with Cataclysm). I assume for Alliance players he had some earlier appearances, perhaps even in Vanilla, but I personally remember him mostly from his appearance in one of the mid-level Wrath zones and his role in the Gundrak dungeon.

    • The Hammer says:

      He was first introduced in the Zul’Aman raid, actually.

      (As fun as he is, it was a big wasted opportunity, that. Zul’Aman’s residents had a lot of beef with the outside world, and there was a heritage of bitterness between them and the Horde, the blood-elves, and the Alliance. That it turned into an admittedly amusing raid was a shame)

    • malkav11 says:

      Ah, that would explain it. I did Wrath stuff tons, but Zul’Aman just the once.

  16. bleeters says:

    Spending justice points earned through running instances on gear at the JP vendors, or simply looting gear from the dungeon-bosses on normal difficulty. What this really means is that your progress to the top-tier of gearing is throttled somewhat, and you’re kind of forced to run all those instances just to get to the next level of difficulty.

    Ah, yes. That’s right. Now I remember why I stopped playing towards the end of WotLK. Thank you, I actually needed the reminder.

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      skalpadda says:

      You actually don’t though, the gear checks are only there if you want to use the dungeon finder tool, you can still just gather a group of friends and walk in the entrance as long as you’re level 85.

  17. Heynes says:

    I won’t let you have the last word, bots!

  18. Premium User Badge

    skalpadda says:

    Enjoy your first steps into heroics, and don’t be too scared. The difficulty comes a lot more from having to know what you’re doing, paying attention to what’s going on and avoiding bad stuff than needing mad gear/DPS/healing, which is a very good thing. Bringing friends who like to have fun and learn fights over randoms who just want to clear things quickly is highly recommended :)

  19. Bobsy says:

    Got to say I’ve been disappointed with Uldum so far. There are way too many cutscenes throughout, and the quests themselves aren’t nearly as exciting as – for example – Mount Hyjal’s. The Egyptian architecture’s cool, sure, but it’s window-dressing, and the cat-people are pretty dull. I get very annoyed, incidentally, when put in an awesome-looking town and I can’t go inside the buildings. What are you hiding, cat people?

  20. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    For pony!

  21. shagen454 says:

    The whole MMO generalization is a bit torn on me. Yes, it is a massively multiplayer game – but it definitely does not feel like a MMO like Everquest, Ultima Online, Eve or any of the other games. WoW to me just feels like a Blizzard game – that is obviously why it works so well. If I play the new content by myself I feel like I’m playing a pretty fun single-player game and that says a lot about the quality that went into this expansion and it’s “MMOness”.

  22. shagen454 says:

    And I definitely want openable doors in this game! I played some of the first worgen content where you knock on doors to alert people to evacuate and when they opened the doors I really wanted to be able to go in after they left – who knows maybe they left their pet upstairs and I could rescue it?!

  23. Forceflow says:

    The spambot. It has failed.