Filesystem Checkwits delve in to Blackrock Depths

26th January 2010 – 5.38 pm

We return to Blackrock Depths, and this time we have the key. It's not much of a cinematic opening, but at least we can bypass all the areas we visited last time. Instead of marching in to the main reception area, where dwarves and hellhounds await, we sneak in through a normally locked door, where we can encounter, uh, dwarves and hellhounds. It's true that Blackrock Depths is the instance of midgets, which perhaps explains why Livya has spent over fifty levels looking forwards to coming here. Livya even claims that by coming to Blackrock Depths we have effectively completed the game and that she has nothing to come back to, but I suspect it's more because she's found 'her people'. She'll be back with us next week, particularly if we slaughter all the dwarves in here.

We make our way towards Bael'Gar, the molten giant standing at the end of a long and wide corridor full of dwarf guards. As we fight one set of guards, hugging a wall to avoid drawing the attention of a patrol, the curious nature of patrols not noticing fights happening ten feet away is somewhat accentuated having Qattara with us. It's possible that the patrol could think we are only performing rather vigorous manoeuvres, even if we are six-foot tall space goats, but, as Livya notes, 'you've got to worry about a patrol that ignores a tree in a cave'. It's true, our druid has her fabulous healing form of a tree, and she is somewhat incongruous deep underground. We could try to convince Bael'Gar that he needs more observant guards, but we kill him instead.

The first boss is immune to fire damage, making Livya somewhat frustrated about half her arsenal being useless, but at least Bael'Gar drops a nifty cloth belt for spellcasters, which Livya nabs. 'It's a pity you can't wear it yet', Vulzerda notices, with the belt requiring 53rd level to be equipped. 'Actually, you can', she corrects herself, referring to the traitorous extra level Livya sneaks in, blaming it on some nebulous questing. But it's all okay, and now Livya can wear a more powerful belt, making her fire spells even less effective against most of the mobs in the dungeon.

It is a surprisingly short run to the Grim Guzzler bar, a place I considered to be deep inside Blackrock Depths. In fact, the whole of the dungeon seems smaller now. Whether that's because this is our second visit over two weeks, or a result of the mobs being nerfed a little, the dungeon seems manageable. Of course, now that Marshal Windsor no longer needs rescuing, for the epic Onyxia quest chain, the cell wing doesn't need to be visited any more, let alone cleared a couple of times over two or three visits. Even so, the reputation I once had of Blackrock Depths being a sprawling monster of a dungeon is receding in favour of it being a wonderfully detailed facsimile of an undergound city.

Indeed, the corridors and rooms linked by overlooking ledges and windows gives a grander sense of design than in many other instances. It even feels much like a raid instance, and more so than the straightforward grind of Molten Core, with many well-designed areas that have particular themes and specific methods for progressing. The effect is adding a charm to Blackrock Depths that I've never really noticed since my early adventures in here. But the early time at which we reach the Grim Guzzler is not to say there is no drama in getting here. Upon reaching the area where gnomish engineers are constructing golems, the dungeon becomes interesting, and combat starts to go awry. Although most of the mobs in the room are not elite, the interesting aspect of singular mob patrols wandering around leaves us with a typical scene for any visit to Blackrock Depths.

It isn't helped that I ignore my own intuitions. I have long been under the impression that early instances are much more straightforward to complete, only becoming a proper challenge when approaching old or new level caps. The lack of class abilities compared to later levels, and the ideology of 'training' players as they advance, requires the earlier instances to be forgiving. But the dungeons to be encountered at the end of levelling must offer more of a challenge, and we are now coming in to the first wave of dungeons designed for level-capped characters. Mobs have more abilities and greater relative hit points, making fights more involving and requiring more resources and co-ordination. Whereas before we could blast through two or three groups of mobs at the same time with cavalier abandon, now I need to ensure that everyone is ready for the next pull, even if it's just a casual glance at health and mana reserves.

On top of the increased challenge, we are slightly under the optimal level for the final sections of the dungeon, making mobs hit harder, and harder to hit. Combined with debuffs that reduce armour or add a stacking DoT, and having environmental effects to consider, we need to tread more carefully. As the tank, steadfastly at the front of the group, more responsibility rests on my shoulders to gauge the speed with which we progress. It is, therefore, a shame that only on reflection much later do I realise all of this, my carefree manner perhaps contributing to another couple of wipes. Yet everyone remains in good spirits, buoyed on by cheerful banter. Livya points out our deaths show how great Blackrock Depths is, 'it sorts out the men from the boys'.

Vulzerda agrees that Blackrock Depths is indeed spectacular, noting that the 'floor textures are great!', getting a good, long look at them whilst waiting to be resurrected. At one point when we have to make a corpse run back, there is a moment where the instance refuses to load, causing our ghostly figures to stand inside the instance a little too long for comfort. 'The instance server is so disgusted with us', Vulzerda says, 'it doesn't want to let us back in.'

'Yes', agrees Qattara, 'learn to play, noobs!'

Livya is optimistic as ever about her favourite instance, 'Blackrock Depths is so awesome they have to ration it this way, or we face an excitement overload.' We finally get back in to the dungeon to continue our adventure. Picking ourselves up, we tread more carefully amongst the gnomes, clearing the area before engaging the boss and his construct companions. None of us are engineers, so the schematics for the field repair bot are left on the floor of the boss's chamber and we make it to the Grim Guzzler. I ask if anyone is bothering to pick up the 'Love Potion' quest from the Succubus barmaid, as I doubt we're likely to return here. Naturally, Livya has picked it up before I've even asked. Doesn't it send you across two continents to get ingredients? 'Yes, it's the quintessential Alliance experience!' But we're pressing forwards first.

There may be several ways to open the door at the back of the Grim Guzzler, I honestly can't remember them from my early days in Azeroth. I'm sure engineers could probably blow it open with a seaforium charge, and I seem to remember there was possibly a way to make Phalanx, a golem guard, break it open. What I do recall is that if you buy all the ale from the barman and feed it to a particular dwarf standing nearby, he will blow the door open, so that's what I do. You need to be aware that such vandalism will be noted by Phalanx, who will change from being friendly to hostile, guarding passage through the door. Getting past Phalanx isn't too much of a problem, but we need to take care to cross the room first without catching his attention, or we risk dragging the whole bar of drunken patrons in to a brawl. A bit like the brawl Livya gets us in to. 'It must be my new turban', she claims. 'What are the odds of running in to a racist robot?'

Wiping when Phalanx and the Grim Guzzler gang up on us isn't so bad. At least when we run back in we start from a better position to fight our way through the bar and out the rear entrance—'We get to experience it in all it's glory!'—although it looks like Phalanx's blood lust is sated, as he no longer appears hostile towards us. Next we come to the Summoner's Tomb, another interesting room offering hints of larger scale encounters. Seven ghostly dwarves stand passively next to their tombs arranged around the large room. When one is engaged in conversation, the fight begins. One dwarf at a time challenges the group, the next joining the fray either when the current one drops or a certain time has expired. It doesn't matter how quickly you defeat the ghosts, more will come immediately, but if you take your time you can get overwhelmed. We choose the quick-and-consecutive option, the end of the encounter releasing the lock on the door ahead.

The path towards Molten Core doesn't tempt us, mostly because none of us are eligible for the attunement quest, so we avoid getting sidetracked this time. Ahead of us is the Lyceum, a room causing many frustrating wipes in its day. It may be nerfed a bit, but the Lyceum can still cause problems. We need to find the torchbearers, steal their torches and light two beacons at the far end of the room to open the door. But the dwarves in here huddle together and breed like rabbits. They may not be elite mobs, but they rely on overwhelming odds to defeat intruders. Our group sticks together, trying not to get separated, and make good use of our AoE to pass through the room without too many difficulties. The Lyceum is still not a room in which to dilly-dally.

Ahead of us is Magmus, a molten giant. I know that when engaged he animates the statues lining his enormous room to throw flames in large arcs. Even aware of this, the flames are not easy to avoid, as their appearance half-way up the room gives no obvious indication of where they are shooting. Having a giant fill up your field of vision also doesn't help. And, once again, Livya is frustrated that the boss is immune to fire. However, there is one creature in here not immune to fire, as Livya's Hellfire-for-Life Tap casting at the end of the boss fight shows. It was bound to happen sooner or later and, already low on health, Livya finally dies from an accidental Hellfire.

The only encounter left is to face the emperor and rescue the princess. The throne room is quickly cleared of mobs, and we stand before the emperor and his thrall. To complete Blackrock Depths properly the princess must not be killed, so we need to concentrate our attacks on the emperor and only focus on the princess to interrupt her healing spells. The fight is far more straightforward than I remember it ever being before, undoubtedly because of the blanket nerfing. Even several levels below our opponents we are successful in rescuing the princess, completing our full run through Blackrock Depths.

I would say that BRD got its reputation as being a sprawling monster of an instance fairly, as it was previously harsher and much more time-consuming. But this was indeed 'previously', as now its reputation probably hurts the appeal of this dungeon. Ignoring the convoluted quest chains, being able to bypass the tortuous cell wing, and accounting for the nerfing, Blackrock Depths can be enjoyed as an interesting and remarkable instance, offering plenty of differing encounters. But some care needs to be taken. Now that we've reached the end, the question is what to do next. 'Let's do it again!' cries Livya, but we vote with our hearthstones and head back to Stormwind for the evening.

We're coming to the end of Azeroth, but there are still plenty of dungeons to visit. The undead-infested plaguelands offer the atmospheric Scholomance and Stratholme, Blackrock Mountain holds Lower and Upper Blackrock Spire, and in the forest of Feralas are three wings of the crumbling elven structure Dire Maul. There is much of the world still to explore.

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