Are You Ready To Tank Deathwing, Version LFR?

Quite recently, Blizzard the creator of World of Warcraft has done something rather innovative to a 7 years old online game.  They put together a mechanism to automatically matchmaking 25 random players from around the world to form a raid to slay dragons and more.  This is a five times expansion of the existing 5-man party assembler.  Traditionally, large scale raiding requires solid dedication of time, effort, sacrifices, and good networking skill.  And it is handsomely rewarded within the game with a deep scene of achievement.  Late last year, first time in Blizzard’s history, this aspect of the game has been opened up to the casual players.  That includes Cynthia and I and some of our friends who now have the opportunity to see a part of the game that was used to be exclusive to only 2% of the player base.  Now, any Tonk, Hick, and Sally can raid Deathwing – the final villain of this Cataclysm expansion – in a specially tune down version that is less demanding.  OK.  Deathwing may not be that elite in this LFR (looking for raid) setting.  But it is the same not so sexy back we parachute onto (see picture above), elite or not!  I often think that asking 25 strangers who may not have worked together before and to play a 90 minutes game is quite a feat – for Blizzard and for us.

Previously, I talked about the three roles that one can choose within the game.  Similar to a football match, the melee players are like the strikers, always up close and personal with the goal.  Mid fielders are like the casters throwing spells from the back.  Both are constantly attacking.  Healers in the game are like the defenders in a football field.  Finally, goalkeeper is like a tank role in World of Warcraft.  You don’t need many.  One tank is required for a 5-man party.  Two tanks are required for a 25-man party.  Of these few roles, I enjoy tanking the most, partly due to its huge responsibility and the demand of a low margin of error.  After all, you may have a few strikers by your side to pick up the slack when you miss the kick.  When a goalkeeper misses the ball, the opposite scores.

After weeks of trying out the different roles in Dragon Soul (LFR), I have put together a tanking guide to help fellow tanks who are new to raiding.  Unless there is a popular demand, I probably would not put up a guide for the other two roles.  Because they are rather straightforward compares to tanking.

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Deathwing Must Die (And He Did, A Few Good Times)

A choir.  I shall use a choir to illustrate what raiding in an online gaming environment is like.

In any given choir, think Christmas Caroling if you may, there is usually one organist or a few guitarists who set the key and pace of the performance.  The music draws attention but it alone does not entertain.  We need the singers to sing the melody.  And we need a few dedicated singers to sing the harmony.  The audience seldom hums along with the music or sings along with the harmony.  The audience sings along with the melody.  Melody is at the forefront of the entertainment deliverance.  Having said so, all three elements must co-exist in order to give forth one spectacular performance.

” They say things look different when you are dead.  After my demise, I looked back upon my twenty odd fellow raiders, who fought alongside with the dragons on the island, who one by one got killed by the bits and pieces of Deathwing (the red blob on the right).  It was a lost battle.  Time for another attempt.”

Raiding in a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) works similarly to how a choir operates.  25 players are organized into a team to fulfill a set of objectives in accordance with the lore.  One year ago, Blizzard has released a new expansion for World of Warcraft.  A year after Cataclysm, the story has finally come to a conclusion when we have the opportunity to face the ultimate villain of this expansion – Deathwing.  We have visited the future and changed it.  We have visited the past and changed it.  Armed with the artifact that may be the key in defeating the dragon Deathwing, we have escorted Thrall – our hero – to Wyrmrest Temple ready to have one final showdown with the villain and his waves of armed forces.  It is dramatic.  It is a lengthy expedition.  And it is an epic battle that leads to an orgasmic ending.  An ending that most of us has to experience again and again till the Pandas come home.

“Kalecgos has become a new Aspect for the Blue Dragonflight.  He made a rare visit to one of our capitals, in Matrix style.”

Players in a 25-man raid setting are required to fulfill one of the three roles – tank, damage, or heal.  Tank, to me, is like an organist in a choir.  They are there to set the pace of the encounters and to hold the enemies at bay.  The music continues so long as the organist keeps on playing.  Similarly, in a raid, when the tanks die, it often means that the encounter would come to a premature end.  That is, failure.  We don’t need many to play a tank role.  Two is sufficient in a 25-man raid.  It is a role with a huge responsibility.  It is also a role that I personally enjoy.

Then we have the heal role to replenish the team and neutralize the incoming damage.  In a military context, heal is like the armed forces multiplier, the ones who refuel the planes or replenish the bombs.  Heal is a support unit, much like the harmony singers in a choir.  We need a sizable heal.  And we need six in a 25-man raid.

Obvious as it sounds, those who take the damage role are responsible to lay damage to the enemy front.  They are like the melody singers who feeds on the music and the harmony.  In a raiding environment, they delivery the offensive blow to our enemies.  We need tons of players to play this role.  Seventeen to be exact.

“25 of us looks tiny compare to Deathwing.  Are you ready?”

In the past, raids in World of Warcraft (or other MMO games I suppose) are organized manually.  You need to put in heaps of commitment, get yourselves into a local community, stick to a timetable set by the majority, and you must have this mentality that each failure is one step closer to success.  One Korean guild attempted one particular encounter 300 times that eventually earned them the World First achievement in defeating Deathwing, heroically.  Proper raiding is no easy feat.

In reality, as recently revealed, only 2% of subscribers got to see the raiding contents.  Blizzard – the creator of World of Warcraft – has done something innovative in a recent patch.  They have created a LFR (Looking for Raid) tool to automatically assemble a raid group of 25 players across the servers.  To compensate the fact that these 25 players do not know each other and have not worked with one another, the encounters (and rewards) are specially tuned down to be more causal friendly.  All of a sudden, many get to experience end game contents, including Cynthia and I.

“[I suppose] Once Deathwing is heroically defeated in a realm (or server), a piece of him is displayed within the capital city to serve as a reminder that while many may falter, the ultimate villain has to be defeated at all cost.”

The LFR tool, wonderful as it seems, is not without its share of criticism.  Elitists bundle up and attack the tool on the ground that some  game contents have to be reserved for the cream of the crop.  Some need to feel special and to serve as an inspiration for many to follow.  While this has some philosophical merits, in an environment whereby every player pays the same subscription fees, there is little incentive to nurture elitism, especially with a 7-year old game that may have passed its peak.  Another criticism is that not all these 25 random players contribute at a similar level.  Do they deserve the reward?  Do they even deserve to be there to experience the story in the first place?  This leads back to my analogy.

Cynthia, my mother, and I have attended the Midnight Mass on Christmas.  Before the Mass, the choir was singing the Christmas Carols.  I observed that not every singer sang with full bodied vocal and devotion.  Some went off key.  It was as though some were there more for participation’s sake.  If it was a caroling competition, this choir would have been out.  But it was not a competition.  Participation is rewarded instead of performance.  I shared my observation with Cynthia and she could immediately relate.  It is OK to have some under-perform in LFR.  So long as we don’t have too many party fillers that makes it impossible to raid.

PS. Join us at Draenor server today!  You can play for free, for the first 20 levels at least.  Our guild has a presence in Alliance, as well as in Horde.

So You Need A Cheat Sheet For WoW Cataclysm Heroic Dungeons?

How time flies!  Half a year has passed since the advent of Cataclysm.  In this fantasy universe, something has gone wrong in the core of the world.  Elementals emerge from within causing fire, flooding, earthquake, and lightning in a worldwide scale.  Coincidentally, in our real life, we face similar environmental threats at a global level.  While the earthquake in Japan still fresh in our mind, today, there is a quake in the southeast of Spain.  And we are heading to the south of Spain this weekend.  Maybe we would see Thrall there holding off a maelstrom.  Just like the story in the World of Warcraft.

We hope not.

After half a year of working through the contents in this new expansion, the few of us in the guild feel that we are ready to tackle the heroic dungeons.  Heroic dungeons are hard, that goes without saying.  In the previous expansion, Cynthia and I have tried to enter into a heroic dungeon unprepared, and we were asked to leave, nicely.  After that incident, we have grown to be a more responsible player.  And try not to waste people’s time.  This time round, we have come prepared.  Our guild members have geared up and I have volunteered to create a cheat sheet – or a quick reference guide – on the strategies involved.

To read more, click here.

The Shattering: Prelude To Cataclysm By Christie Golden – Missing Lore Explained

Flawed as it may be, this book “The Shattering” in several occasions moved me literally to tears.  For better or for worse, Christie Golden may well be one of our finest.  She has the passion to the lore, connection to Blizzard developing team, and has the time and patience to write a book for the fans whom most do not even have the patience to read the few-liner in-game quest text.  I have read her previous book “Arthas, Rise of the Lich King“.  No way I am going to miss this one.  Because I am aspired to be a lore geek.

Unless you have been in the past few months religiously following the lore development at Warcraft’s website and reading through the monthly comic book series, you may feel disoriented from where the Warcraft universe was used to be, to where it is now.  Azeroth has been ripped apart, through the Cataclysm world event.  Weeks before December 7 last year, prior to the launch of Cataclysm, for those who had logged into game, you must have been awed by the change in landscape.  New faces have appeared in our capital cities forming the new line of leadership.  For most the questions you have, “The Shattering” may have the answer.

The story begins with the triumphant return of Garrosh Hellscream who has led the Horde expedition beyond the Dark Portal and Northrend.  A character who is soon to assume the position of acting Warchief.  For most of us who are not familiar with the lore – myself included – Garrosh Hellscream is a character we have little love for.  Especially if you have already read the episode between the reckless Garrosh and the honorable Cairne Bloodhoof, the late Chieftain of the tauren.  And his clashes with the legendary Horde Warchief, Thrall, too may not sit well with some of the lore lovers.  This book has changed my perception of him completely.  Hellscream represents a new generation of leadership, with a unique personality and trait.  To join this new era, there are Baine, son of Cairne, and the young human prince Anduin Wrynn.  Moira Thaurissan née Bronzebeard is also featured as the new dwarf queen.  Varian Wrynn, king of Stormwind, is back.  The ever charming human archmage Jaina Proudmoore – ruler of Theramore – with unknown years of age is still instrumental to the plot development.  Magic must have preserved her well.

The strength of Christie Golden is perhaps on the dramatic dialogs of honor and sacrifice.  I am happy to read how different each race converses.  However, I do not think the author is in particularly strong in the romance bits, nor the battle bits.  And I wish some parts of the story have more depth, and breath.  But such is the challenge of a lore writer, with perimeters drawn by the game designers.  Through “The Shattering”, readers should have a better appreciation on the differences in culture and political climate between the two factions – Horde and Alliance.  I still think that Cataclysm as a world event is bias towards the Horde.  And it is shown in this book too.  Some readers are disappointed that not even Deathwing – the Dragon Aspect that is responsible for this entire Cataclysm –  is mentioned.  No, you cannot find Deathwing in “The Shattering”.  Because this book is a prelude to the coming of Cataclysm.

“The Shattering” is more for the fans, than for general public consumption.  Having said that, I am curious to hear how someone with zero lore background would perceive this fantasy book.  Even for the fans, if you are lost, do not hesitate to consult WoWWiki.com.  It has everything you ever need to know, in the World of Warcraft.

This is an actual in-game image of tauren's capital city Thunder Bluff. This capital is heavily featured in "The Shattering".

This is an actual in-game image of tauren’s capital city Thunder Bluff. This capital is heavily featured in “The Shattering”.

For The Love Of Singing Sunflower – Plants Vs. Zombies, The Warcraft Style

Cynthia finds it creepy.  But I happen to love the singing sunflower companion, quite possibly the best companion we see in World of Warcraft to date.  It sings random lines, musical notes flying up its head.  OK.  It is a little bit spooky.  That child like voice coming out of nowhere.  Randomly, it would sing, “La la la …” or better still, “There’s a zombie in your lawn.”  To obtain this pet, you have to complete a chain of quests (level 20+).  Fans of WoW would call this mini-game “Peacebloom vs. Ghouls”.  But really.  This mini-game draws inspiration from the popular PC game – “Plants vs. Zombies”.  I have not played PvZ.  And if you neither have, fear not.  Here is a near sure win strategy to share.

To get the quest, you should head to Hillsbrad Foothills.  To the east, south of Dalaran Crater, there is a farm.  Brazie the Botanist needs your help to defend his lawn against the zombies (or rather ghouls and various exotic undeads).  The first quest “Basic Botany” is a tutorial.  The zombies only appear in the middle row and you can plant the Spitter to take them down easily.  You need solar energy to plant flowers.  To collect solar energy, right click onto the shinning spheres.  The second quest is “Flower Power”.  You have access to Sunflower.  Sunflower increases the availability of solar energy and for this particular quest whereby zombies will only come in via the middle three rows, three to six Sunflowers should be good enough.  I like to use Freezya too.  It slows down the zombies.  The third quest “Ghouls Hate My Grains” poses some level of challenge.  You have access to Rocknut, which is the best defense you can have.  I prefer to place them on the third column from the right.  That gives me more space to place other types of plants.  I also enjoy using Strangler Vine.  Some players don’t like using it.  What Strangler Vine does is that it grabs a zombie and tosses it up in the air.  The zombie is immortalized up in midair.  And it is attacked by your plants from different rows.  The fourth quest “Someone Setup The Pumpkin Bomb” is likely the hardest of the quest chain.  The Pumpkin Bomb is useful to take down a large group of zombies, especially useful to weaken the strongest mobs.  To sustain its usage, you need two columns of Sunflower.  To make it effective, try not to throw away a bomb too early in the game.  The last quest is “Lawn of the Dead” – the ‘boss’ fight.  I personally think that this last bit is not as insane as the one before.

If you get stuck with this mini-game – I know Cynthia did – you may wish to try the following strategy.  Below is my priority list, applicable to part three to five of the quest chain.

  1. Plants three Sunflowers at the back of the lawn, before you do anything else.
  2. Plant a Rocknut on the row where the first zombie appears (and soon another one will appear).  This should buy you some time.
  3. Plant a Spitter on the row where the second zombie appears.
  4. Plant a Spitter on the row where the first zombie appears.  If your Rocknut breaks too soon, plant a Freezya to slow them down.
  5. Focus on planting two columns of Sunflowers, wherever you can.
  6. Plant a Rocknut whenever the cool down expires.  I place them on the third column from the right.  Replace the lost ones immediately.  A strong line of defense makes your game lasts.
  7. Drop a Pumpkin Bomb if situation calls for.
  8. Plant Strangle Vines behind a Rocknut if you can.  These are good front line offence.