Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

Icecrown Impressions

With all my ranting about 3.3 I was still interested to see how the new raid instance has turned out and was therefore actually happy to get selected for my guild’s first foray into it. Well, technically our first two forays but Wednesday was, well, patch day. Advantages to patching a day later my ass.
Anyway, we actually got into the instance late Wednesday night and then without issues on Thursday. You’ll find my first impressions from all four available bosses below the break.

Trash
It seems that careful pulling is back on the agenda. While most trash is still quite AoEable, there are some mobs that simply kill your raid if not handled with care. Especially the big skeletons at the start with their interrupting shouts are nasty. If you have just one, you can simply target it and stop casting when the shout comes up, no harm done. If you have two, you can make your tanks announce the shouts on Ventrilo or use a spell alert of some kind. If you have four, casting is really difficult and those guys can just plain eat you up.
Personally I’m not a big fan of “watch your step” difficulty as opposed to actually difficult enemies, but I suppose it serves a purpose. Lazy solution, maybe, but it makes trash somewhat dangerous and therefore more exciting.

The trash also gives you reputation, which gives me a warm happy feeling inside. I’m not exactly sure why that is, because reputation means grinding the same content over and over again, but I assume that I just like the feeling of getting rewarded for raiding even if I don’t get any loot. There are also some BoE epics dropping from the trash, which is fine by me (as opposed to epics dropping from trash in the 5 mens. Now that’s a joke.) Overall, the inclusion of trash already makes the instance much better than Trial of the Crusader before I’ve even seen the first boss. Take that, people who whined about trash for years and years. Turns out Blizzard was right, who knew?

Lord Marrowgar
First up: Lord Marrowgar. Conveniently target of the weekly raid quest and generally awesome looking guy. We killed him Wednesday night, which means that we had a lot of lag and actually wiped because of it. Without the lag it seems unlikely that we would have wiped – at our gear level his damage is quite trivial.
On that note – some guildies said last night that we outgeared the instance, which I found odd indeed. How can we outgear a brand new tier? I suppose they are somewhat right in that the instance was designed for people in ToC normal mode gear (or worse) and not for our 258 gear – but this shows the big issue with the current form of content progression. We get better (read: higher item level) gear in Icecrown Citadel than we get in ToC hard modes. Yet the worse gear is already too good for that instance? Something is seriously wrong with the reward/difficulty ratio here. But that’s a rant for another day I suppose. It’s also not very different from what happened in ToC, which makes it old news.

Well, Lord Marrowgar died and left us with a comment that has become the tag-line of this expansion for me: “This could be interesting on heroic.” Marrowgar has some nifty abilities that are made completely irrelevant by the fact that they don’t deal any real damage. Standing in the fire doesn’t even really hurt, taking his whirlwind + dot is easily healable, and the dps can be really slow on the bone spikes without doing any serious harm. All the elements of an interesting-yet-not-too-complex fight are there, simply tuned down so much that it isn’t much of a challenge.

Lady Deathwhisper
The next day’s raid then tackled the remaining three bosses, starting with Lady Deathwhisper who was actually harder than I anticipated. Not actually hard mind you, but the way we had our DPS distributed we actually got overwhelmed by adds a few times which led to a quick wipe. I can see this being quite challenging for less geared or experienced groups. In essence, the fight feels a lot like the Shade of Akama in the Black Temple but apparently tuned for a decent DPS requirement. Mechanic wise there is nothing interesting about Lady Deathwhisper, I suppose it’s a check of DPS gear and basic raid communication skills. Nothing wrong with that.
That curse she does, however? Bah! As long as you have this curse, abilities you use get 15 second cooldowns. Even with fast decursing you can easily get locked out of an important spell for 15 seconds which isn’t much fun gameplay wise.

Gunship Battle
You’ve all heard of the Gunship Battle, but do you know what it has in common with both the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj and the underside of a flowerpot?
It’s full of bugs. I’ve heard all kinds of stories about issues with this encounter and we encountered some for ourselves. Except for a failed try in which our (lagged) tank jumped from the ship, letting the enemy captain loose on our raid, we beat the encounter well enough and without any real problems. Tactics weren’t really needed and especially healing was just dodging rockets and playing whack-a-mole. The bugs came when we actually finished the encounter. We shot the enemy ship down and the boarding team got teleported to where we started the battle. I don’t know if that’s how it’s supposed to be, but that’s not the bug I’m talking about.
Our ship refused to leave the place of the battle, meaning we couldn’t get off and the teleported people couldn’t get on. We were also perpetually stuck in combat and couldn’t loot the chest on the ship, an issue we could eventually solve with a Divine Intervention on me, taking me out of combat and enabling me to take the loot to distribute it later.

Deathbringer Saurfang
A mass suicide later and we stood in front of Deathbringer Saurfang, but still in combat for some reason. Being in combat doesn’t improve your combat preparations very much, making our first attempt turn into a wipe. I can’t blame wipes there just on bugs, however, since the fight is actually somewhat challenging. DPS, healing, and tank requirements aren’t all that high but there are a few things to learn about the fight before you can succeed. Our biggest issue was that mêlée characters mustn’t get aggro from the adds that he spawns as that will, through a somewhat convoluted mechanic, wipe the raid. Teaching your mêlée DPS and tanks not to use any sort of AoE attack while adds are up is a rough task indeed. Even our Death Knights’ Wandering Plague was an issue which we had to solve with a good, old-fashioned Righteous Fury paladin.

If they give the adds more health and make them immune to snares and roots, this fight might be quite interesting – although I’m getting sick of “spread out evenly or die” fights. I know they don’t want us to just stack up and AoE heal any amount of dots the boss can put on the raid – but surely there must be another way than forcing us to spread out? It wasn’t any fun on Kel’Thuzad and hasn’t gotten better since.

Conclusion
So far, Icecrown Citadel leaves a positive impression with me – even if it’s only due to the extremely low expectations I had. We actually wiped legitimately a few times on bosses which is more than can be said of Trial of the Crusader. The whole instance also feels decently epic, even though the 28-days-later-gnome at the end is a bit anticlimactic. There’s even a surprising act of compassion at the end of this first wing, I won’t go into details in case you are afraid of spoilers.

That said, the technical difficulties associated with the launch of a new patch are really getting old. Many of the bugs that appear are so blatantly obvious that I have no idea how they slip through quality assurance. Many computer games need patches when they launch, but that’s mostly for system related issues. That’s not the case here, all the big bugs are server-side and not finding them is just plain sloppy.
The fact that the new wipe mechanic is quite deadly when you zone in when the gunship battle resets should have been obvious the first time someone wiped on that fight in testing. And what about disconnecting on the ramp in the five men instance? This reeks of quick fixes after the testing has been done and no proper testing of those. Or, in plain text, a rushed launch. Would it have been so bad to launch Icecrown Citadel in January and use that time to actually make it playable? Maybe even add some hamsters so that, you know, people can actually enter instances?
Well, they have 28 days to get it right this time.