U to the Lduar

Well, now that this expansion is drawing to its close, I find myself back again in Ulduar, facing the 10man hard modes to complete a nice list of achievements. I have to say that so far, Ulduar is pretty much my favorite instance in the entire expansion. To quote a certain rapper:

“Yo Icecrown, I’mma really happy for you, and I’mma let you be farmed…but I just wanna say that Ulduar is the greatest raid instance of all time. Of all time!”

Well, lame jokes aside, there are many reasons why for me Ulduar is such a lovely place – if you have your own favorite, do share which one and why. I am always curious to what people look for on those dungeons (aside of epic loot).

Immersion and atmosphere

The moment you enter Ulduar, for the first time you feel like your are part of a greater thing – an entire assault force stands ready, it really feels like outside events are moving along with you. Brann Bronzebeard leads a force of engineers and mages, but is unsure how to proceed. Enter the heroes who figure out by years of standing in fires how to activate the transporters.

It also represents a great wrap-up of the events outside of Ulduar. The storyline of madness from Grizzly Hills completes as you find out that Yogg-Saron’s whispers are to blame. Saronite’s diabolical origins are revealed and traced back all the way to this prison. Thorim’s sad story and capture culminate in freeing him from his mental prison. Assisting the Avatar of Freya shows a bit of her power, but you will feel her unrelenting fury in the Conservatory. And finally, the fight against Yogg-Saron himself takes you back into the history of Azeroth, showing just how far the influences of the Old Gods go.

Ulduar’s progressive storyline was taken into Icecrown, and that makes Icecrown a very interesting instance, from a lore perspective. But it wasn’t the first, and it wasn’t the best, in my opinion.

The threads we earned

The tier sets that were designed for Ulduar were lovely, and meshed great with the environments. Standing in your Tier8 inside Ulduar made you feel like you belonged there. As if you were actually draped in the raiments of the Titan’s followers, and were exacting their will. While Tier9 meshed well with the concept, the sharing of textures between classes was a bit hit-and-miss, as well as the division between Horde and Alliance. For my warlock, I wished I had rolled her horde for that reason.

And Tier10 makes little sense to me. The sets look stunning, and are in most cases fitting to the environment, but certainly not to the class. Making priests look like cultists, mages like San’layn and paladins like Death Knights was an… extravagant choice to make.

On top of that, the legendary that could be earned by healers, Val’anyr, was awesome across multiple levels. You needed to collect shards, tiering its progression, as well as do a hard mode to complete it. But in return you got a weapon that matches every healing class, provides unique (and difficult) gameplay and stunning looks. Frostmourne is great in-game, but its lore is sketchy and does not match any except one of the classes that can use it. Its game mechanics are also rather bland, it does not influence the playstyle but simply adds AoE damage and self-healing.

Encounters

What I loved about the Ulduar Hard modes is that activating them was tied to player choice and sometimes player skill. Flip a switch on Mimiron, or exceptional DPS on Thorim/Hodir or the choice to not take the easy rod (Freya and Vezax). While I understand perfectly why this idea was not copied in TotC and ICC, I feel it adds so much when your actions in-game determine how hard your time will be, instead of the raid leader flipping a switch on his raid console.

The encounters themselves were very varied even in Normal mode, and it took a bit of thinking to squeeze everything out of it. So far the Hard modes in Icecrown as reminiscent of this, not mere +damage copies of Normal mode. Sometimes a DPS race in a Normal mode becomes a survival fight on Hard mode, which is an interesting switch.

I hope that we will see more of such encounters in Cataclysm, where the encounters are intense and fresh on Normal mode, and flip completely on the Hard mode. I love being surprised and having to change my game play – yay for Velithria Dreamwalker!

Note that the encounter mechanics in Ulduar are not new per se – they are often borrowed or reconfigured from Classic raids and mixes of some Naxx encounters. But the mechanics do make sense, and they fit the bosses you fight wonderfully.

Sense of Completion

When all is done, and your hard modes cleared, one final challenge awaits. Sure, Algalon is not needed to get your Protodrakes, but he represents the storyline coming full circle, the entire tale turned to its end. And not only will you have saved the world (and gotten some fat loot for it) you also get to tell Rhonin the good news, and have him announce it across Dalaran. I had the pleasure of completing this quest line, and it felt awesome to be part of such a nice story.

I also managed to win myself the quest item to get the Algalon key on 10man, and I am really happy for it. Completing this quest (even as part of the raid, not the questee) gives access to lore and the real final boss of the instance.

One day, I can walk around in my Tier8, proudly sporting my Astral Walker title while carrying Val’anyr (well, will takje some time to work on the latter, real healers go first!) and enjoy the fact that I have seen Ulduar from start to finish.

Shadowpriests and Yogg-Saron

In a role-playing perspective, there are many tales you can spin regarding Shadowpriests and Old Gods. Some claim that we worship them – or even Yogg specifically. In the latter case, how did you get over his defeat, where does your power come from now?

Perhaps you serve another Old God, an unnamed rival who wishes to weaken Yogg-Saron to claim some of his earthly schemes. If so, your presence in the raid was to guide your fellows to defeat him, and to ensure his defeat by contacting your Master.

For Natarumah, as an Achorite of the Void, she went into Ulduar to quelch the threat of Yogg-Saron, hoping for his death to trigger the attention of Algalon. For the message he would send would represent a guide-path to the Titans. A source of lore and power greater than ever imagined. Like a beam of light, she could have her senses follow it, and perhaps learn secrets that would help her in her real scheme…and since she had possession of the message before passing it to Rhonin, there is no telling if she might have altered it beforehand.

Conclusion

If you freshly leveled up your toon, and have skipped Ulduar (like so many) by getting a set of Tier9 with emblems from heroics, I would strongly suggest you join a raid heading for that place. But don’t go there for the loot or achievements alone, take the time to enjoy the scenery, the stories unfolding and the feel of history moving about you. You will not be disappointed – Cataclysm will continue the story for which Ulduar formed the solid base.

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One Response to “U to the Lduar”

  1. I really love that place. Naxx 25 was my very first raid and I ran it with my first end game guild. I love that place, too. My guild fell apart after Ulduar came out and I had only gotten 6 or 7 of the bosses down by the time I left. I have since gone back more than a few times with my current guild, while we were grinding ToGC 25 and could still use gear from there. And I have even pugged all of the 10 man HM’s. I have to agree that it is a great instance.

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