So I am a masochist.
When I got both appearances for my Demon Hunter, conquering the Mage Tower, it led me to start thinking about the time I could put in on other classes.
I wanted all of my mains, characters I’ve progression raided on, to have theirs, at least. That meant doing Priest and Monk on top of the already-complete DH challenges. So I started with the Priest, doing the Disc challenge successfully in a handful of attempts – it was the Feltotem one, which is probably the easiest among them.
So then I tried Holy Priest – the Black Rook Hold challenge is far harder, and Holy Priest is among the worst versions of the challenge. It took me about 5 hours over a large handful of attempts, but I did it! Then I waited until this week to do Shadow, since I don’t play it much, and about 20 attempts later, I had beaten the Magespear Twins and claimed the cool crescent knife wife.
On a boring Sunday, I knocked out all of the Monk challenges. I started with Mistweaver, since it meant another trip to Black Rook Hold, and I had most recently done Holy Priest at the time, so the encounter mechanics were fresh in my mind. It still took around 20 attempts, but Mistweaver has it far easier there – Vivify is an absolute beast for the healing phase just before the final boss, and I have the Vivify-buffing legendary boots on my monk, so it went very well. I did the tank challenge on her for the second time in under 15 tries – Chi Torpedo mobility isn’t as good as Vengeance Demon Hunter, but it works well enough, and Stagger saved my bacon enough to keep focused on Kruul and push him down. Then, Windwalker – I was worried because I don’t play it that much, but it is the Feltotem encounter again, just like Disc, but with real interrupts for spellcasts. I did that one in two tries, and ended a lazy Sunday afternoon with 3 new challenges complete.
I did Unholy DK while Agatha was bugged and not spawning boulders, so it took 3 tries – without the heavy mobility requirement, that encounter really isn’t bad.
And that brings me to this week, where I geared and pushed through my Druid (as Guardian) and Paladin (as Prot) to complete the tank challenges for the third and fourth times. It took about 44 tries between both (30 on Druid for reasons we’ll discuss momentarily) but overall, I put more attempts than that just doing it on my current DH main.
So I am starting to find myself kind of drifting back towards something I felt when the Mage Tower was announced. To an altoholic like myself, these are fun, but often, once you’ve completed each one once, you start to notice the core gameplay and it does make class mastery mean less. For example, on Disc, doing the Feltotem challenge is way harder since you have no interrupt for Fel Blast. You have to either fear the tauren off of you and out of casting, or use Fade with the artifact trait that makes it drastically reduce your damage taken, just in order to survive. So when I did it on Windwalker, it was far easier since I could reliably interrupt 100% of the casts needed. All of the threatening things were gone by virtue of being a class with access to the basic utilities expected by the encounter.
Likewise, in Black Rook Hold, the first phase is very nearly always the hardest, as dealing with the adds, particularly with Mana Sting from the Arbalests, requires some sort of stun, incapacitate, or some other way to deal with it. Or, you can make Jarod Shadowsong take the hit, and be forced to load him up with heals to live through the damage it does. As a Holy Priest, this was hard – it meant having Holy Word: Chastise available for the mage adds while having to Shackle Undead on the Arbalest, but you had to be mindful of diminishing returns, so it also made the Arbalest adds a DPS check where your best bet was to Smite them as hard as you could in the face until they died, so you would only have to shackle them twice at most. Then the Soldier adds with their knife dances, chaining shackles to interrupt. The middle phases aren’t so bad, but the ending with the heals before the boss is rough as holy, since your best single-target heal is on a very long cooldown, and your other cast-time heals are relatively anemic. It requires stacking cooldowns including specific talent choices – the clearest rough edge in many of these designs. On the other hand, doing it as Mistweaver was far easier. Especially as a Pandaren, I had multiple choices for add interrupts and incapacitates for phase 1, excellent, easy damage throughput, and potent healing and mobility cooldowns to deal with the various add abilities. The middle phases are always relatively easy to manage, and then the ending was so much easier with spells like Vivify and the use of powerful cooldowns like Chi’Ji.
Lastly, the tank challenge. The differences here seem relatively better managed, but there are still confusing choices. Druids get a aura of decay circle over twice the size of every other tank spec, which has led to the meme of “better have Luffa” for the extra Thrash radius. Prot Paladins get Nether Fiend adds that don’t cast Netherstorm, which makes them so insignificant with any barely skillful play that it seems comical compared to the others. However, the flip side of that is dealing with the knockbacks – on my Demon Hunter and Monk, the knockbacks weren’t game-enders, but on the Druid and Paladin, they matter far more than almost any other mechanic. If I got hit by a half-power or higher infernal casting Smash, or an eyeball, I was done with that attempt, unless I got lucky and was launched into a piece of errant geometry that acted as a wall (of which there are a few)
(fun side note – my winning attempt on prot pally I got knocked off the platform and onto an island, which I was able to jump back to the main platform from without resetting the fight or losing the NPCs.)
So I guess I should actually spell out my point now – I wish these challenges were more unique per spec. Maybe it would suck to have to make 36 unique fights, or to truly balance the much smaller number we got to provide that spec-flavor I was hoping for. But as it stands, some of these are clearly awful from a balance perspective because they skew to a base spec or ideal, and often have to backfill for other aspects of the specs that end up assigned to them. The Feltotem challenge, for example, is so easy to me because I did it on the hardest possible spec first. Discipline Priest was assigned to it almost as an afterthought it seems, and so you have to have specific, odd gameplay execution (using Fade solely as a damage reduction CD) and specific talent choices to best enable your progression through it. Likewise for Holy Priest – they fit well in the Black Rook Hold Challenge, but if you don’t talent into Apotheosis, certain points of the fight become damn near impossible. I say near impossible, because I imagine with 0.1% top tier gameplay, or an item level in the 970’s, you could probably do without, but it would take a tremendously high level of gear and skill to overcome these talent checks. And I don’t particularly mind that things might be easier for some specs than others – the game will never exist in a state of full balanced equilibrium. But the tank challenge, for example – prot paladins get Nether Fiends that might as well be stuffed animals. They can smash Velen for a while without mattering at all, where on any other tank spec where they channel Netherstorm, they will kill Velen in seconds if not picked up. Given the variety of damage reduction and interrupt abilities a prot pally has, I am baffled at why that decision was made. Similarly, that same challenge fucking sucks for any tank without mobility options – it is specifically why I will wait to do Blood DK until I’ve done Prot Warrior. Classes like DH with huge mobility toolkits and excellent, specifically useful recovery options like Glide, can breeze through once you learn the fight, where a full understanding of the fight can still get you killed as a Druid, Paladin, Warrior, or DK, since if you get hit with a knockback, you’re basically done.
My hope is that we get more stuff like this overall, but I would like to see more emphasis placed on balancing the difficulty curve so that it is relatively the same per class and spec. And I do absolutely expect that we will see something like this in Battle for Azeroth. I would bet on it.
But in the meantime, well, I’ve done the healing challenge so much now that I think my Druid and Paladin could use some new skins. Hopefully the practice means I’ll get to 13/36 before too long. 🙂