On Bottlenecks and the Start of Expansion Rush

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World of Warcraft, despite its recent years, is still a pretty big game. One that always gets a surge of interest right at the start of expansions. It’s up to Blizzard to try and make sure that the starts of expansions go as smoothly as possible because as with any game, creating a bottleneck right at the start (or toward the start) of expansions with result in a lot of negative backlash. For the current expansion, Warlords of Draenor, it hit multiple national news sites such as the BBC when the garrison technology either trapped people inside their garrisons, leaving the rest of the world a phased husk with no NPCs outside of the garrison walls, or the exact opposite where trying to get into the garrison left that empty.

However, there was a bottleneck even before then that created the actual bottleneck and caused a lot of rage within the community. As the Alliance, you had to place a flag into the ground, but it could only be done one at a time. Even on a quiet server such as Emerald Dream, you still had to compete with ~100 other players to stick their flag down into the ground. I don’t know what the situation for Horde was like, but from what I hear it had something to do with looking through a spyglass that had the exact same issue.

So it got me thinking, and I’m sure Blizzard have had the same thoughts going into Legion. What can Blizzard do to try and ensure that we don’t have these bottlenecks going into the next expansion? How can they make things go as smoothly as possible, once they know their hardware can handle the mass logging in of thousands of players across multiple realms? With previous expansions, we’ve always been split up to try and even the load of people going to different areas, so that a local spot isn’t overwhelmed with people trying to get one quest objective done (and in their boredom, spam AoE spells and eventually crash the server).

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In vanilla, where the hardware was the shakiest, we still had 8 areas where people were split up – every race’s starting zone – that was easily the biggest and best spread we’ve had. But that goes without saying for a fresh new MMO that its starting roots should be the largest, with expansions having less areas for people to flood to. In The Burning Crusade, both the Horde and the Alliance at level 60 flooded into Hellfire Peninsula, with the two factions splitting off into their own questing hubs. Rerollers had the opportunity to also level up the new Draenei or Blood Elves, with particular emphasis on the new Shaman and Paladin classes that were previously unavailable to Alliance and Horde respectively. So here we had 4 bottleneck potential areas for people to get stuck in, yet here again was more simply keeping the servers as a whole up

Going ahead to Wrath of the Lich King we had the first new class introduced to WoW, the Death Knight, where people flocked to en masse. For those at level 70, they had the choice of two entry level zones: Howling Fjord and Borean Tundra, and again split into Horde and Alliance questing areas. This split the playerbase up into 5 local areas. In Cataclysm another two new races were added: the Worgen and Goblins, as well as another two new zones for high level people to go into: Hyjal and Vashj’ir. Although Vashj’ir splits the Alliance and Horde up, in Hyjal (and arguably the more popular zone in hindsight) puts both factions on the same rollercoaster ride through the zone. Again, that’s 5 bottleneck local areas for people to get caught up in. However, new race/class combos were introduced and with the revamp to the 1-60 questing experience, I’m sure the smaller minority spread themselves over the 8 starter zones for other races (for those that didn’t readily race change anyway).

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Mists of Pandaria brought us Pandaren that had a notorious quest to set a banner on fire, again with only one player being able to do it at a time, with the banner respawning a while later for the rest of the people in the “queue”. Level 90s were pigeon-holed into the Jade Forest, with the two factions having their own hubs once again. Similar to Cataclysm, there were a few that levelled in the rest of the starting zones, this time to level non-Pandaren Monks. Though with how small the Monk population already was anyway, I doubt that this had much of an impact to the bottlenecks, especially in the Wandering Isle as well as taking several rounds on a helicopter vehicle before even getting an action bar to complete the quest… At least instance servers were stable for at least half an hour to filter people around. Realistically, people were bottle-necked in MoP into 3 areas, and the game definitely felt it as questing technology increased faster than the capabilities of the servers handling it large-scale.

Cue Warlords of Draenor, with its launch bringing sub numbers back up to 10 million again, and Blizzard used technology extremely well with the Assault on the Dark Portal scenario, allowing small groups of people to go into the entry experience in Draenor. Even though I was on a quiet realm anyway, I never saw more than 10 people in one area, though I believe that the scenario split people up into packs of ~50 to ease up on lag. The only problem was that once you left this scenario, you were put into Shadowmoon Valley or Frostfire Ridge, and as I outlined earlier, a similar problem to the Pandaren fire banner quest occurred: only one person at a time could click on the spyglass or flag in order to set up your garrison – this was outside of the problem of having to keep on returning to this solo phased area to update missions, pick up new breadcrumb quests to lead and fly you to new zones and update buildings and work orders… all for it to become an extremely unstable place to be for several days after launch. With no new races (thanks to the art team being busy updating the pre-Cata races) and no new classes, people had very little reason to start at a lower level, so the vast majority of people levelled from level 90 in the two new zones – the smallest range of bottlenecks to date! Because of the problems of filtering people outside of the garrisons, it’s hard to tell where else there were problems, but once people started catching up to the lucky few that got out, you certainly noticed the increase in server lag.

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In Legion, Blizzard are trying out a new style of levelling – allowing the zones to level around you while you play through the story of different zones. With current pacing, it’ll take around 2.5 zones to get you to level 100, and it takes around the same amount of time to get through each zone’s full story. Without access to beta, I’m not entirely certain how factions will be split up in each zone, but I know for sure that Stormheim splits Horde and Alliance up, while Val’sharah has a similar Hyjal feel of keeping everyone together in one place (though with less rollercoaster questing as you get to choose which hubs you want to go to). The biggest bottleneck that I fear for however will be that as soon as the expansion launches everyone will start in the new Dalaran. I don’t know if you remember how laggy Wrath of the Lich King’s Dalaran was at the best of times, but if everyone starts off here as soon as the expansion launches in order to get their artifact weapons… Let’s hope that live servers will be more stable as even in videos I’ve seen in alpha, it sometimes took a while for the emissary to lead you to your artifact took a while to even turn up (despite them spamming your chat log that everything is urgent).

Blizzard have done fantastic with everything leading away from it, as long as instance servers can be found in order to do your artifact scenario, as it will lead people away, initially, into 36 different areas, to group up into class order halls (note, not your own personal garrison) of 12 different areas dotted around the world, to then filter out into 4 levelling zones of at least 5 concentrated areas of action. Demon Hunters will be introduced as well, though pre-orders can play their starting experience and play around in HFC between 7.0 and Legion’s launch. It all depends on if Lagaran has become more stable in its new incarnation for Legion’s biggest bottleneck. One of the bigger problems will be for those that are classically fast levellers: they will continue seeing plenty of players levelling with them even if they’re one of the 5 people that are 108+. No more hiding away in Nagrand, Dread Wastes, Twilight Highlands, Icecrown or Netherstorm lag-free and continuing your dominance to server first level X.

Time will tell if Blizzard have finally hit the nail on the head on how to keep a game’s launch stable.

WAWK: Hellfire Citadel Part V

Black Gate

The Black Gate. While not as terrifying as its Lord of the Rings counterpart, it is the final step of our journey in Hellfire Citadel – and it isn’t even inside the Citadel itself! Chasing down Gul’dan and we find ourselves right where we started in this expansion: at the Dark Portal itself. Now just ruins, the orc warlock has tainted the ground around it while the fel roots shoot up to create a new portal to an unknown world or dimension, but through it strides the lord of the Legion, Archimonde. In our final episode of Who Are We Killing, we find out about Gul’dan’s final plan for Draenor.

Archimonde in Previous Games

Chronologically speaking Archimonde is one of Warcraft’s oldest villains, betraying the Eredar race 25,000 years ago alongside Kil’jaeden in exchange for immense power from the Dark Titan Sargeras. This act split the Eredar into two factions: the Draenei following Velen and the Man’ari following Archimonde and Kil’jaeden. Ever since, the two Man’ari leaders have sought vengeance against the Draenei for fleeing from the Legion, and have burned countless worlds to the ground in search for them. Talk about a grudge…

In terms of the franchise however, Archimonde has only been around since Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. While Kil’jaeden was the driving force behind the corruption of the orcs as cited in the Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness manual and prefers to work the plans of the Burning Legion through others, Archimonde heads the full attack of the Burning Legion, demons and all.

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In Warcraft 3, putting one grudge match against the Draenei aside for the grudge match against Azeroth, the Man’ari duo made their first return to Azeroth in 10,000 years with Kil’jaeden causing havoc through the Undead Scourge. Once the plague swept across Lordaeron and Quel’thalas the Scourge opened up a portal to the Twisting Nether to allow a full Legion invasion, along with summoning Archimonde to Azeroth.

The conclusion of Reign of Chaos ended with Archimonde fighting his way through the defenders of Kalimdor to ascend the peak of Hyjal. His goal was to absorb the powers of the World Tree Nordrassil as it held remnants of the arcane energy that filled the Well of Eternity – the power his master sought to absorb in the Legion’s last invasion. In the hour of his victory however, Malfurion had set up a trap. Using the spirits of the forest, the wisps, he called them all using the Horn of Cenarius to detonate once they surrounded the daemonlord.

In World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade, players got to re-enact the final Reign of Chaos mission in one of the wings of the Caverns of Time instance complex. This Caverns of Time raid was unique at the time because there was no Infinite Dragonflight, the main antagonist of the dungeons, attempting to alter the timeways – there didn’t appear to be much difference at all between the RTS mission and the MMO raid. This led to popular speculation as to whether a mysterious group of adventurers had always assisted, as I’m sure many of us know that allowing the NPCs to defend without us leads to their downfall.

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Archimonde in Hellfire Citadel

Previously thought to have been completely vanquished at the base of the world tree Nordrassil at the end of the second Legion invasion, Archimonde made his grand return in Warlords of Draenor with a tweet from Afrasiabi stating that this Archimonde is the same as the one that got vapourised a decade ago. As he wasn’t killed within the Twisting Nether, he was simply banished back to there until he was strong enough to return. We’ve seen this happen many times before – especially with the Nathrezim such as Mal’Ganis or Balnazzar. It’s what stops there being an infinite number of Burning Legions from decimating worlds. There are many Eredar from 25,000 years ago that bore the name Archimonde, but as soon as they accept Sargeras’s gift they all merge into one Man’ari.

But knowing what happens in HFC, Gul’dan summons Archimonde into a Draenor that should already be conquered by the Legion. Whether through Kil’jaeden’s corruption in some timelines, or Archimonde’s brute force invasion of others, this timeline is the one that Azeroth’s defenders – the only planet we know of that has fought back the Legion not just once, but multiple times – is now protecting. What he does here is quite extraordinary however: he brings us into the Twisting Nether to confront him (in mythic, which is widely regarded to be the canon version of any fight). Likely to separate us from Khadgar, Grommash and Yrel, but I also imagine he’s stronger on home turf. Nevertheless, he is defeated and his body collapses… On Draenor’s side. We don’t see him fall within the Nether, we’re just treated to the same end cinematic that the easier difficulties enjoy – whether that’s laziness on Blizzard’s side, or there are plans for Archimonde in the future is up to their discretion.

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The Future For Gul’dan

Speaking of villains that last for more than one expansion, I’ve commented on this in the past that Blizzard tend to build up big bads within the game for us to only kill them in the final chapter of that expansion. Illidan (or Kil’jaeden) were never on our minds during vanilla – it was only until TBC came out that he popped his head through the door, and we slammed it shut. The same with Arthas in Wrath of the Lich King, and again with Deathwing in Cataclysm. It seems they heard mine and many other lore nerds out there that we didn’t really find these great “villains” very threatening when we killed them within a year of them becoming a threat – in Mists of Pandaria they decided that we were only going to defeat Garrosh, allow him to live for him to only escape and become the link into Warlords.

Only, this end-of-expansion villain was already killed before we even hit level 100 in some cases. It’s a start, I guess, and from what we know from Gamescom in August, it looks like that when Gul’dan was sent through the portal that summoned Archimonde, he ends up on our Azeroth. So here we have the final warlord left that isn’t either dead or now on our team who has again survived and links this expansion to Legion. However once again we appear to kill him off in the first tier – in our first real confrontation with him. Even in Hellfire Citadel where we’ve chased him and he’s been part of fights, we’ve only been up against his fel-infused Divine Shield while he resurrects demons and maintains Legion portals.

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It’s why my favourite villains in Azeroth have been Azshara and the Old Gods – especially N’zoth. These are villains who we’ve been up against and lost against: we’ve lost Neptulon, the elemental lord of water thanks to the former and we knew about N’zoth but couldn’t for whatever reason go ahead and end him. We had bigger fish to fry with Deathwing at the time and to stop the Hour of Twilight, though we’ll certainly be finding out more about Azshara during Legion, but it looks like once again we won’t be fighting her but her minions. Blizzard tried a deviation of this with Dragon Soul’s final two encounters being Deathwing – the only problem back then was that the first encounter was much more difficult than the second encounter (and final encounter of the expansion). But I would sincerely be interested for them to try this experiment again.

I would LOVE for Blizzard to prove us wrong by allowing Gul’dan to be the final encounter of Suramar Palace but allow him to incapacitate us and allow us to lose. Make us feel mortal again for us to realise that we can’t go headstrong into the thick of it. Let us regroup at our class halls and re-evaluate what we have to do. Will we see Archimonde or Kil’jaeden again on the Broken Isles? Or will they be villains ready for when we take the fight to Argus, if we ever do? At least for the former, if he really was killed in the mortal plane on Draenor, he’ll need time to regain his strength.

WAWK: Hellfire Citadel Part III

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Moving away from orcs and the other traditional bosses we’ve come to expect from the expansion so far, we now move onto other races of Draenor that have been tempted by the Legion: The Felsworn Arakkoa and the Sargerai faction of Draenei. Most notably, we will be facing up against Shadow-Lord Iskar, Socrethar the Eternal and Tyrant Velhari in the Bastion of Shadows wing of Hellfire Citadel. Although Velhari doesn’t appear much outside of Hellfire Citadel, both Iskar and Socrethar have plenty of backstory to discuss and find out the answer to the question: “Who Are We Killing?”

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Shadow-Lord Iskar

I made a mistake last time saying that we already knew this bird from The Burning Crusade as he seemed to be a name I recognised even when we first met him in Talador and later Spires of Arak. After looking into it deeper, it turns out I was confusing him with Isfar, the Arakkoa responsible for giving you a bunch of Sethekk Halls quests back in the day. Regardless, despite being introduced for the first time in Warlords of Draenor, he appears multiple times during the questing experience as well as in the short story Apocrypha where he is the clutch-brother of High Sage Viryx, the last boss of Skyreach. As a result, he’s arguably still got the most lore behind him as a result within the Bastion of Shadows.

His story is a tragic one, starting off with picking up the pieces of Viryx due to her reckless behaviour of breaking the rules (going as far as risking getting her wings clipped and thrown from Skyreach). Unfortunately for Iskar, he kept on getting into the wrong place at the wrong time thanks to trying to keep Viryx out of trouble. Once captured after finding information derogatory against Rukhmar, his clutch-sister betrayed him by choosing Skyreach over Iskar and clipped his wings before exiling him into Sethekk Hollow. From this betrayal, he sought vengeance against Rukhmar and his Adherents throughout the Spires of Arak, culminating with the defeat of Viryx who had later become the High Sage.

However, during the events of the Spires of Arak we find that Iskar had desires of bringing Terokk back physically against the advice of Reshad (the other main Arakkoa protagonist of Spires). Instead, Terokk imbues the player with his powers to fight against Kargath Bladefist, and Iskar becomes outraged that outsiders were allowed to use arakkoa magic, and goes missing shortly after the events in Skyreach now that his ultimate goal had been completed.

The Order of the Awakened is formed after High Sage Viryx is defeated, allowing an alliance between the Outcasts and the surviving Adherents, though when their scouts go searching for Iskar, we find that he murders them. Unable to accept the balance between light and shadow, Iskar looks toward Gul’dan as the orc promises to restore his wings in return for finding the Cipher of Damnation, a spell used to imbalance the elements of Draenor and cause it to become unstable.

Once successful, Gul’dan fulfills his promise and orders Iskar to raise an army of felsworn Arakkoa, all bearing the gift bestowed upon Iskar. Knowing that his past was to seek justice against the Adherents of old, to dispel the myths about Rukhmar and the Curse of Sethe, it seems a shame to have to kill Iskar. He could have been a hero with us, but I guess once you lose the trust of those closest to you, I guess you become a little more trustworthy of those that can produce immediate results for your own selfish goals.

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Socrethar the Eternal

A character that we did originally meet in TBC however was Socrethar. There wasn’t much character development for him back then (as was the case with most NPCs in WoW’s earlier days) but what we did know was that he wasn’t one of the original man’ari eredar that joined Kil’jaeden and Archimonde on Argus. He only joined the legion at a later date and all we knew of him was that he was once a renowned warrior of the Light and pride was his only flaw.

In the alternate universe in Warlords, he was introduced to us as Exarch Othaar, one of the five Exarchs that led the Draenei under Velen in Shadowmoon Valley. When the Alliance first arrive in Shadowmoon, Maraad requests the aid of Elodor for supplies as well as assistance against the Shadowmoon Clan of orcs. Exarch Othaar gathered the other four Exarchs together as he could not make the decision alone, but when the player meets up with them Exarch Hataaru had been murdered.

After a short investigation it was revealed that Othaar was the traitor and reveals himself to be the eredar Socrethar. After his escape he becomes the leader of the Sargerei faction of Draenei, twisted by the Burning Legion in pursuit of power, and claims Shattrath for the Legion after we liberated it from the Iron Horde. The Sunsworn, Auchenai and Sha’tari Defense team up to remove him and his forces from the city, resulting in his supposed death.

Gul’dan had other plans however. Using the holy ritual practiced by the Auchenai that immortalizes a great Draenei warrior by placing his spirit into a vigilant, Gul’dan twisted it using fel magic to bring Socrethar the Eternal to life within the upper halls of Hellfire Citadel. An interesting tidbit that when we defeat him in HFC, he mentions that the nether is consuming him. Is this what the binding was for, to cement his presence on Draenor and become full-demon? Is his soul now in the Twisting Nether to return in the future, or did we stop the binding process? I guess time will tell.

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Tyrant Velhari

The final boss of the Bastion of Shadows is a Sargerei that was, previous to 6.2, unknown within WoW. However, with her unique mechanics, I’m pretty sure this will be a fight to remember for most healers in the game. The only presence she has outside of the raid is in the 6.2 Tanaan Campaign questline, where she is protecting Gorefiend alongside her disciple Adept Vatrusta underneath Auchindoun. When confronted, Gorefiend and Velhari escape while Vatrusta falls to buy them time.

From her abilities that she uses, it was clear that she used to be a Vindicator or some other style of Paladin before accepting the fel touch. From (un)Holy Power builders such as Annihilating Strike, Tainted Shadows and Bulwark of the Tyrant, to casting them three times before using a more powerful (un)Holy Power spender such as Infernal Tempest, Font of Corruption and Gavel of the Tyrant. In addition auras and her three Guardians of Ancient Kings simulating effects that Retribution, Holy and Protection Paladins would wield, it becomes clear that Blizzard designed her as a ‘fallen paladin’, showing just how much your faith will still empower you, whether or not it becomes tainted by fel magics.

As with Socrethar she is also a demon, so it’s unknown if we truly have defeated her or if she could make a return in the future until we destroy her soul within the Nether itself.


That rounds up the Bastion of Shadows! Next time we’ll be taking a deep dive into the full-blown demonic side of Hellfire Citadel in the Destructor’s Rise wing, taking a look at the not-very-well-known Fel Lord Zakuun and Xhul’horac before discussing the Destructor himself, Mannoroth!