Having polished off all the Vanilla dungeons (I want to say Classic but that now means something entirely different), our motley Alliance crew ventured into the first Outland instance, Hellfire Ramparts.
I was super pleased to see our Hunter had already managed to piece together a classic Outland outfit, with some truly ridiculous ‘pants’, clashing gloves, topped off by a fantastically wrong helmet. His gormless face was icing on the cake.
I have strong memories of this dungeon being somewhat difficult, especially the tricky early trash pulls which can easily go horribly wrong, and the final boss, the netherdrake Nazan. Those memories were confirmed when I looked up the Ramps blog entry from our old guild, Midnight’s Children – it sounds like a nightmare, even bringing a rare rallying cry from our Guild Leader:
Midnight Children do not believe in rank or status. As such their guild leader has never issued an order. But I do now.
This Dragon must die. All the forces of this Mighty Guild will be bent to this end. No sacrifice is too much, no labour too strenuous. One Horde. One Guild. One Victory.
So it was with some trepidation that we entered, especially as we were reduced to four players. How could we get through this alive, let alone short handed?
Incredibly easily, as it turned out.
Blizzard either nerfed the living daylights out of Ramps at some point, or else our years of playing meant that it was a walk in the park. Somehow I suspect the former. We had no trouble with any trash or bosses, with Nazan falling with barely a whimper.
He also dropped a super nice looking weapon called Hellreaver for our DK.
Our biggest challenge ended up being trying to tame one of the excellent Shattered Hand Warhounds for our Hunter. We accidentally killed just about every single one via my Consecration Aura, our Death Knight’s Death and Decay, an accidental auto attack, etc., before our veteran Priest designed a strategy that allowed our Hunter to pull a solo wolf while we distracted its companions. It was silly but also great fun, a reminder of how the best gaming moments tend to be unscripted and spontaneous.
Last night our Alliance guild finished off the final Dungeon in the original ‘Vanilla’ (aka Classic!) set, Lower Blackrock Spire, a dungeon crawl par excellence.
When I used to tank pug, I was always glad when LBRS popped – though often I had to queue for it specifically as once you hit 58 the game decides it’s BC dungeons or bust. It’s a far more linear run than Blackrock Depths which makes it much easier with a PUG, but more importantly it’s full of interesting bosses, bonus quests, pet drops, and stunning multi-level design that absolutely nails the underground fortress feel.
Much like BRD, there are many spots in the dungeon where you can see where you will be going later, or where you’ve been previously, and plenty of tricks for backtracking and short-cutting if you want to. The bonus boss Urok Doomhowl is a great example, requiring you to have looted the head of a prior boss but also to have collected an unmarked pike to stick that head on. The designers obviously realised people might miss the pike, and cleverly allow you to jump down to a lower level path that leads you directly back to the pile of pikes… followed by a long jog back to your party. At least one way was fast!
LBRS is basically a dark Horde stronghold, which makes it strange to run as actual Horde, even if the minions and bosses are Horde traitors. Killing Orcs and Trolls doesn’t sit quite right. On the other hand, doing it as Alliance feels exactly right.
One thing that became a problem late in this sequence of runs was Blizzard’s 8.2 change to group XP, where having a level-locked person in the group meant no-one earned XP for the events during the Dungeon nor the quest hand-ins at the end. Apparently the change was made to foil people charging for level 110-120 boosting, but surely Blizzard could have made that only apply to the high level boosting.
Several of our members were using each run to level up, which worked perfectly with keeping pace on the dungeon level requirements, and that stopped abruptly with the policy change. We did work out you could disband the group, wait for a 5 minute cooldown, and hand in the quests for full credit, but that is a pretty dull thing to have to do and doesn’t help with the missing XP from all the dungeon mob and boss killing. It’s a pretty punishing change for groups like us who are working systematically through content.
The level nerf didn’t spoil our fun however. We finished the journey that started way back in Deadmines over a year ago, and earned our Classic Dungeonmaster achievement. The Blackrock dungeon duo are a fabulous end to an epic 60 levels of dungeoneering – our newest player commenting on how he was exhausted but exhilarated by the end of LBRS, with the achievement being all the sweeter for the tribulations Blackrock Mountain had put us through.
Now it’s time to unlock XP again and venture into the wilds of Outland and the many good Dungeons – and colourful outfits – to be found there.
After testing a few things I think I’ve settled on a UI for Classic. Or at least settled on the fundamentals.
I decided against a full UI replacement with ElvUI. Despite the convenience of one-add-on-to-rule-them-all, it’s less fun than creating your own, certainly during the early days when there aren’t as many add-on choices. Plus , when levelling, things like Boss Mods and rotation optimisation aren’t nearly so important, meaning you can concentrate on just adding bits and pieces that make it more enjoyable to play.
I played for a few days and started noting down the things I was missing. The most immediate one was having unit and action frames closer to the centre of the screen where my character is. Having to constantly shuffle your eyes down to the action bars at the bottom of the screen, and way up to the unit frames at the top left, means often missing out what’s happening to your character in the middle. That can be bad when adds start coming, but also it means not seeing nice attack animation and even just admiring mob design mid battle.
After testing a few things to solve that issue, I chose Bartender4 (BT4) for the action bars, and Shadowed Unit Frames (SUF) for the, uh, unit frames. Both were tools i used in BC so it was a nice throwback as well as being useful.
Bartender is easy to configure and immediately simplifies the screen by removing a lot of the Blizzard chrome. It also allows easy hiding of bars that you don’t want, and you can move those you do whereever you like. So now I have my main actions just below my character on two bars.
Similarly SUF simplifies the look of your character frame, and the target and target of target, etc. There’s a lot of options, but the defaults work well and match BT4 well too. One favourite feature is hiding unit frames when out of combat, which cleans up the world view considerably.
The next obvious thing was a bag replacement. It didn’t matter too much at first given only one bag, but the sudden proliferation of tailors making linen bags to level their skill meant a bag add-on was a big help. I tried Bagnon and Inventorian, but didn’t love them. Then I found that TBag had been recreated for Classic and rejoiced. TBag is my favourite bag add-on – super simple, fast, colour coding, and category sorting all add up to a winning combination. It’s unfortunately been abandonded for Live – another reason Classic is Better!
For nameplates I added Threat Plates, which has the advantage of helping with threat management as a tank. It colour codes the threat levels (green when you have threat, red when you’ve lost it, and yellow when you’re losing it) and can work for either tank or DPS classes. I may change this for DPS use depending on what I end up levelling the most, but at the moment it’s working fine.
Those were the main things I replaced that made the game nicer to play without changing the experience too much. I’m also using OmniCC and Classic Aura Durations, just to have nice countdowns and sweeps on abilities.
The other thing I tried briefly was ClassicCodex, mainly because I saw some screenshots that showed interesting things like the percentage drop chance of an item and this was the add-on that did that. But I soon disabled it because it added much more than drop stats. It introduces a lot of the quest conveniences we’re used to on Live and more – map icons for quest givers and hand ins, dots on the map to show quest locations, spawn locations for quest mobs, etc. It was also default configured to auto accept and auto hand in quests, which totally confused me for a minute. So it basically felt a lot like a fast levelling tool, which is fine but not something I was looking for or interested in.
Once I get into Dungeons I might try AtlasLootClassic, as it was another original add-on and it’s fun seeing what the bosses might drop and planning accordingly – but I wonder if it too might be a bit too revealing, like the Codex add-on.
I’m enjoying the slower pace so something that interrupts that to make you more productive actually seems counterproductive in a weird way. SynCaine nails this contradiction when analysing a MassivelyOP post revelling in the slowed down nature of Classic which at the same time talks about how to speed it up: I love the difficulty so much I installed a mod to remove it!.
Using the default UI is completely workable, and is theoretically more ‘Classic’, but in the end I agree with Belghast’s tweet where he said that using add-ons has been as much a core part of Warcraft as the game itself. It’s fun to use them, and it’s incredible seeing what people have created to enhance the game.