Return to Blackrock Mountain

2nd February 2010 – 5.38 pm

Listening to Livya raving about Blackrock Depths for fifty levels was amusing. I'm sure when I started running the instance years ago I was full of wonder and awe at the sheer size of the dungeon and convoluted corridors and connected rooms. But after many visits, most notably to rescue Marshal Windsor for the Onyxia attunement quests, Blackrock Depths became a tedious grind, a necessary chore to get to the more interesting adventures. Livya must be in a nostalgic state of delusion, I chuckle to myself every time she recalls that Blackrock Depths is the best dungeon ever built. Either that, or there is a secret Horde version with rainbows, unicorns handing out epic loot, and hunters replaced by competent players. But seeing the dungeon with fresh eyes and friendly companions, I begin to appreciate Livya's passion. Of course, a lot has changed since the early days.

Blackrock Depths was built with same design as the Deadmines, Gnomeregan, and Uldaman. Instead of the sleek three-wing design of Scarlet Monastery, the monolithic instances are long and demanding. Antithetical to their monolithic nature, the dungeons were also designed for progression, resulting in a spread of mob level far beyond what a party could realistically defeat in a single visit. The mobs at the end of the dungeon could be eight levels higher than those at the start. A party would either have to make the early mobs trivial to defeat and offer no rewards, or be unable to defeat the final boss. At least after the Deadmines some content could be bypassed, if you had the key.

But now the monolithic dungeon design has been eschewed in favour of shorter dungeons. The commitment to play for several hours has been reserved for raiding, with quicker sessions available for more people to enjoy. And although the old world has not been torn apart and rebuilt—at least, not yet—some of the guiding principles of shorter, more enjoyable sessons have been implemented in the monolithic dungeons. The level disparity of mobs has been reduced, making it more likely that all mobs throughout the dungeon will offer some reward and sense of achievement in defeating them. The mobs themselves have been weakened slightly, so that each combat is quicker, increasing the overall pace of progress through the dungeon. And that's not all.

Classes have undergone significant changes and adjustments over the years, with enhanced and extended talent trees, new and more effective spells, as well as overhauls to the game mechanics in general. It is not just that the dungeons are more inviting, adventurers are better equipped to wreak havoc and survive. For the tank and healer to finish most fights on full health and mana seems peculiar, but that the protection paladin and tree-form druid do so undeniably helps with survival. So it is that the drudgery Blackrock Depths had become is lifted in our recent runs, offering me opportunity to enjoy the scenery and admire the way everything is constructed, from the architecture to the fights. Whilst it may be fun to revisit Blackrock Depths, there are plenty of Azerothian instances left to conquer, and before too long we will be heading to the Outlands to experience the first evolution of the World of Warcraft. But fate shines down on the Filesystem Checkwits. With one person missing this week we aren't going anywhere new, and we can revisit Livya's favourite dungeon. It's just a shame that it is Livya who is absent, leaving us to reflect on our absent friend.

Vulzerda still remembers all the wipes of previous visits, admittedly mostly from last week. 'We're going back to Blackrock Depths?' Yep! 'I'll go and get the alcohol then.' But I've probably learnt my lesson! Even so, it is best to be prepared. Although I mention in my previous report that we no longer have to visit the cell block of Blackrock depths, I am mistaken. Having visited the King's chamber in Ironforge we are all now on the mission to free the princess, which involves first finding a prisoner. But even this isn't too much of a chore any more. The general nerf of the mobs means the occasional adds aren't too threatening, and cautious prevention of runners keeps fights manageable. Plucking the key from the warden's still-warm body and picking the right direction towards Kharan Mighthammer's cell means we have to fight only half the mobs in the block, which slightly reduces the frustration of having to head back to Ironforge to continue the quest chain.

We use our hearthstones to return to Stormwind quickly, then courageously ride the Stormwind tram public transit system to Ironforge to speak with the King. On hearing that he wants us to rescue the princess, I can't help but feel we, as heroic adventurers, could have come to that conclusion ourselves. This is an occasion where dynamic questing would be beneficial. Indeed, I am surprised the King doesn't go in to a rampage. 'You learnt from talking to Mighthammer, in a cell in Blackrock Depths, that my daughter is deeper in the dungeon, held in some mad fool's thrall, and your instinct is to return to tell me? Not to go and rescue her?! What kind of heroes are you?' Well, quite. Instead, we have to deal with an unfortunate effect of normalising only the tangible dungeon content. I am reminded that much of the anguish with Blackrock Depths was caused by the interminable quest chains, sending you out of the dungeon only to have to return to repeat the content for no good reason. At least with accelerated experience gains we have the luxury of being able to ignore quests, and our current visit is specifically to rescue the princess properly this time. We head back in to Blackrock Depths for the fourth time in three weeks.

There are two quests in our logs guiding our adventure tonight. Saving the princess is one, the other is another quest demanding our return to Blackrock Depths, this one to slay Incendius. We were happy to ignore this second quest, not planning to come back solely to complete an unnecessary task, but as we are here and Incendius is close it seems like a good idea to gain some extra XP and try to catch up with Livya. Ah yes, Livya. She may not be here in person, but she is in spirit. Vulzerda's fire totem spews AoE everywhere, and Qattara notes it is about the right height. And my new add-on simulates Livya's encyclopaedic knowledge of the dungeon. Outside of the dungeon, party chat is occasionally interrupted with shouts of 'Blackrock Depths is glorious!', and once inside any question about direction or tactics is met with either 'I dunno', or 'yeah, maybe'. It's like she's fighting beside us.

Making our way to Incendius is straightforward enough, opening the locked gate and turning right at the end of the first corridor, ignoring Bael'Gar to our left. One of the dwarves we fight runs straight to the fire totem, but as he is a Fire Marshal it is probably because of some health and safety mandate. We also question the wisdom of Qattara fighting fire elementals whilst she is in tree form, so she instead focusses on trying to give the dwarves nasty splinters, hoping they get infected. Incendius is defeated and we come back to open the Shadowforge lock to gain access to the rest of Blackrock Depths. Beyond the dense cluster that is the cell block area, it is surprising to see how few extraneous mobs there are to fight between the different and interesting areas, even more so if you are willing to ignore a couple of bosses, which we are. Despite having to beat some gnomes off with a stick, we quickly reach the Grim Guzzler again.

We ply a dwarf with some ale, keeping the rest for ourselves to get the pet from the Darkmoon Faire, and Phalanx gets upset about the dwarf destroying his door again. We get past the construct without fighting the whole bar this time, running around the corner in to Ambassador Flamelash and all his little minions, who are just as quickly despatched. Before we know it, we are back in the Summoner's Chamber, facing the seven ghostly dwarves. Missing half our DPS is most noticable here, where on a couple of occasions the next dwarf joins the fight instead of waiting his turn, but we cope easily enough and at the end of the encounter grab our loot from the chest. The Summoner's Chamber links directly to the Lyceum, and we are charging in to interesting and exciting challenges one after another.

My consecration and Vulzerda's fire totem AoE is enough to take care of the paper dwarves in the Lyceum, which is handy considering the mess they make of my screen. The torch bearers are found reasonably quickly, and the two beacons lit to open the exit ahead. With no more of an introduction, Magmus stands before us again. After our trouble last time with the flamethrowing statues, we try to find somewhere safe to stand, but we don't find one. It looks like the fight will end as it did before, but some emergency mutual healing keeps shaman, druid and paladin fighting to the molten giant's demise, where we once again have to grab the loot and scarper as the room continues to burn. All that is left is the throne room.

The emperor's minions are soon dealt with, only a few elite guards amongst the frail nobility of the court, before the emperor launches himself in to the fray. We aren't quite ready for the concluding battle, but no matter. I keep the emperor's attention on myself, the princess remaining in his thrall, whilst Vulzerda takes care of the stragglers in the throne room. Once we regain complete control of the encounter the emperor is easily defeated. This time, the princess is rescued properly, for her father, King Magni Bronzebeard. The Filesystem Checkwits, and one proxy, stand on the throne of Blackrock Depths and survey all that we have conquered to get here. Perhaps Blackrock Depths is a little easy now, but it certainly is magnificent again.

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