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Facing the Voodoo in Zul’Aman March 27, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Instance Group, World of Warcraft.
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We have had a bit of a gap since our last full instance group run.  Birthdays, marathons, and some other outside activities have intruded.  We have done some things together.  Operations in search of mounts, bags, and rep are always an option.  But it hasn’t been the full group for almost a month.

And I wasn’t sure we were going to have a full group up until nearly the last minute on Saturday.  I was in a game of Age of Kings with that group, where we were working on build strategies influenced by our obliteration at the hands of MoronHunter and friends, when suddenly everybody in the instance group was online.  Time to go!  I quickly built a wonder, thanks to my booming economy, and let that match run out in the background with my apologies while I got World of Warcraft up and running.

We were on for the night, and our group was:

  • Earlthecat – Level 86 Human Warrior Tank
  • Skronk – Level 85 Dwarf Priest Healing
  • Bungholio – Level 85 Gnome Warlock DPS
  • Alioto – Level 85 Night Elf Druid DPS
  • Ula – Level 85 Gnome Mage DPS

No boost in levels for anybody since last time.  I think I mentioned this before, but an interesting side effect of the huge inflation in numbers when it comes to Mists of Pandaria is that, at level 85 and beyond, experience gained from doing Cataclysm content is almost negligible.  You have to get into Pandaria to move that experience bar beyond a rate measured in single digit pixels per hour.  The situation is almost EverQuestian in that regard.

Anyway, despite everybody getting logged on at the appointed hour, we ended up mucking about for drinks and bathroom breaks and at least one computer reboot to clear up a sound issue.  I was able to watch the end of the Age of Kings match and close that out as we got ourselves settled.  Earl and I got on the bird to get out to the summoning stone at our target for the night, which was Zul’Aman.

Zul’Aman is rated level 85++, where 85+ is a standard heroic mode dungeon.  Given that, even with out item level 372 gear upgrade from Pandaria, we still ran into problems in the heroic Deadmines, I was a bit concerned that an instance considered to be a challenge relative to that might be an issue.  But we were going to give it a shot.

Earl and I summoned the rest of the party out to the stone and off we went.  Well, we bounced of the entrance for a minute because the group leader (me) had not set the instance mode to “heroic.”  It seems odd that a heroic-only dungeon should care about that setting, but whatever.  At least the error message was informative, so I switched modes and we were able to enter.   We picked up the quests in the foyer of the instance and then the gate was opened and we were set loose.

Opening to Zul'Aman proper

Opening to Zul’Aman proper

Our efforts in detail after the cut.

Zul’Aman.

Zul’Aman was once a 10 person level 70 raid.  Then, for Cataclysm, it was recycled and turned into the 5 person super-heroic level 85 instance it is today.  This has made some people angry, but some people will get angry no matter what you do.  I for one like the idea, but I have never been a raider in WoW (current LFR aside, and I am not sure that really makes you a raider in any case) and so have little emotional investment in raiding content made obsolete by the ongoing levels and expansion issues common to WoW and its ilk.

Basically, it is some nice recycled content that I never saw the first time around.  Good for me!

The instance itself is a sprawling outdoor affair, steeped in troll lore, which was largely cribbed from Caribbean cultures.  Lots of voodoo and such.

Zul-Aman - The Map

Zul-Aman – The Map

The fact that it is outside makes it feel like a large place, though I am not sure if it is necessarily bigger in actual playable square footage than Grim Batol or some other instances.  But you are not channeled down a single path and, aside from the final boss at the far east end of the zone, the path to whom is guarded by another boss, there is no particular order in which you must take on the instance.

So we went anti-clockwise… because… we like the term “anti-clockwise.”  There was a band called anti-clockwise in my youth.  I think.  It might have just been something we thought was a good name for a band.  Maybe I am thinking of Anti-pasti.  Anyway, we killed the baddies just outside the door and turned right.

We did have a bit of an advantage in that a couple of us had run through the zone as level 90s, which meant we had faced the boss fights once before.  But that was with Earl’s level 90 alt leading the way, and he is so well geared at this point that I think he does 30K DPS with just auto attack turned on.  So, balancing out this pre-knowledge was a clear distortion of how tough the bosses would actually be at level.

Still, we did okay with the first boss, Nalorakk, the bear guy.  His fight was relatively straight forward.  Earl held him, Skronk kept us alive, and we burned him and his adds down without much in the way of panic or drama.

We were even in time to release his captive.  One of the quests for the instance involves freeing four captives that are being held by the bosses in the zone.  As the door opens to let you in, a 15 minute timer starts.  You must rescue the captives before the timer runs out or they will be executed.  We finished up the first boss five minutes in and freed the first scout.  That was the only one we were able to free.

We headed off to towards the next boss, avoiding the pack of mobs in the center of the instance and taking the path up the side instead.  Fights with the trash mobs were not hard, but they were challenging enough to keep us on our toes.  I managed to pull enough aggro at one point getting to the second boss that I ended up dead.

Dead to trash mobs

Dead to trash mobs

But we did make it around to the boss, Jan’alai, cleared out the area around him and then started in on him.

Facing Jan'Alai

Facing Jan’Alai

Here is where the distortion of our level 90 run started to work against us.  Nobody could remember anything bad happening with this guy.  We just ran in and killed him.  End of story.  So, we attempted to duplicate that.  And then the freakin’ world caught fire.

Jan'Alai lights up!

Jan’Alai lights up!

Yeah, he has a fire thing going on, and a pile of dragonhawk adds, and some other stuff.  It was a pretty convincing wipe.  There was no “we almost had him about it.”   We got stuffed in a barrel.

So we regrouped and tried it again.  Things went a little bit better… I think we knew we were going to wipe before it actually happened this time.  That is better, right?  We did find in one fight that you could reset the encounter if you ran down the steps leading up to Jan’s platform.  That was possibly useful in keeping things from being a full wipe.  That worked out for us once.

After a few more attempts it was time to Google the fight because we were clearly not getting what was going on.  It turned out that, early on in the fight, Jan summons a couple of assistants to hatch the dragonhawk eggs.  I saw those guys run past, but was a bit pre-occupied to think much of it.  If you take one of those guys down, that slows down the dragonhawk add assault.  And if your DPS burns down the dragonhawks coming from the side with the live assistant, things become more manageable.

In theory at least.

We gave that a try.  I ran after one assistant, killed him, and then tried to stem the flow of dragonhawks entering the fray.  That sort of worked.  And then Jan started the whole fire thing.  And then he threw down a bunch of bombs, one of which took out Skronk.  I managed to get a combat ress off to bring him back, but then more assistants had been summoned and the balance of the dragonhawk eggs hatched, leading to a frenzied battle where all the DPS died and only Skronk and Earl managed to stay up, taking Jan’Alai down in a very near run health bar race.

Jan'Alai down at last

Jan’Alai down at last

You can see one of the side platforms in the picture above where the dragonhawk eggs were stored, and from which the hatched dragonhawks swarmed out.

Ula, who has skinning as a profession, then made bank on skinning all the dragonhawk corpses under Jan’Alai.

Skinning went well for her as we moved across the zone to Halazzi, who has a host of lynxes at his disposal, along with the occasional angry crockolisk.

Halazzi was another fight where we had a distorted view of things.  He summons healing totems starting early in the fight.  We were able to out-DPS them with our level 90s (because Earl) but at level 85 we were coming up short.  But we were able to adapt mid-fight, and I took on the task of totem killer.  Then it was just a race to keep DPS up in the face of whatever Halazzi could summon.  I did have to pop another combat ress due to a misstep, but otherwise we were able to power our way through.

Halazzi down

Halazzi down

From there we decided to drive to the eastern end of the map to go after the final boss.  This meant going through Hex Lord Malacrass, which turned out to be a fairly predictable fight.  He has two helpers with him.  We burned down the helpers, then went after him, without much planning beyond “Get him!”  And then we were through the door and looking up the steps to Daakara, the big boss in the zone.

Daakara, he's up there

Daakara, he’s up there

We started that one off with one of the classic mistakes.  The tank and the melee DPS got up on the platform while the healer and the ranged DPS stayed down the stairs.  The battle started and we quickly found that those not on the platform were locked out of the fight.  Skronk was able to do some AOE healing for Earl and I, but it was a lost cause.  We died.  And then, in the usual order of things, the barrier that kept 60% of our party out did not keep Daakara in, so he ran out and slaughtered the rest of the group.

Well, we had a soul stone ready.

The second time around things went better.  We all carefully got up on the platform before the fight kicked off and proceeded to handle Daakara in his various forms without falling apart.  There might have been another combat ress.  But in the end, he was down and we survived.  We took a victory shot, having defeated the main boss.

The group after Daakara

The group after Daakara

And then the quest NPCs showed up and we were able to turn in all but one of the quests we picked up.  That included the quest with the 24 slot bag as a reward.

The bag!

The bag!

We were all pretty happy about that and proceeded to swap out a smaller bag right away.

At that point we were effectively done.  The victory music was playing in the zone… and just wouldn’t stop, even though I had music turned off in my settings.  We could have legitimately called it a night.  But we decided that, with one more boss still standing, we had work left to take care of.  So we headed straight up through the middle of the instance and got stopped on that platform in the center of the lake.  There, thanks to some unfortunate adds, we managed to wipe without killing a single mob.

We gave it another try and wiped again.  But at least we managed to take out a couple of the bad guys this time.  This time Skronk and I had to release and run back to revive people.  The third time through we managed to not get adds… at least not as quickly… and we marked target order so we were all burning down the same mob, and we made it without issue.  Amazing what happens when you actually settle down and do it by the numbers.  I think we were just dismissing this pack of mobs as trash in a zone where we already had problems with trash.

Through that, we made our way up to the last Akil’zon, the path to whom is a bit of an event in and of itself.  We found him and made sure everybody was on his platform and went after him.

This is a busy fight, and I am sure I didn’t get the nuances of it.  There is a lot of electricity involved and some birds that drop down and grab party members.  The bird thing happened to Ula early in the fight, and she flew about not sure what to do.  Then I got picked up and found that I could target the bird carrying me and was able to DPS it down and return to the fight.  I passed that tidbit on, but the wheels were already coming off the wagon and we ended up wiping.

The second time around we knew how to deal with the kidnapping bird, which favored Skronk exclusively, and we managed to power through the electrical effects largely on Skronks ability to keep the heals flowing.  I am sure we could have done the fight better, but it ended up with Akil’zon dead, so we were happy enough.

Akil'zon down

Akil’zon down

That done, we were ready to call it a night.  Having arrived through the front door rather than using Dungeon Finder, we walked back out again.  I noticed an altar in the instance foyer that looked like a good place for a screen shot and managed to get the whole group together and lined up.

The group in Zul'Aman

The group in Zul’Aman

That might be one of our best group shots ever.

Then it was time to recall to home.  For Alioto, that meant back to Dalaran.  I am not sure why I still have his stone set there, but I suppose it is as good a place as any.

Zul’Aman itself felt like a good run.  Nothing was a face roll with our ilevel 372 gear, unlike heroic Shadowfang Keep.  But nothing was so hard we could not overcome it if we spent some time on the problem at hand.   We only had to go out of game for Jan’alai, because we just were not seeing the key to that fight after several runs.

We were clearly helped along by doing early Pandaria levels of DPS.  Ula, Bung, and Alioto were doing about 15K DPS each, while Earl and his big, bad blue bound to account ilevel 450 sword was hitting 27K DPS.  That helped us look better than we are at taking on bosses by giving us a buffer.

But all in all, it felt like about the right level of effort and the right amount of content for a fun instance group evening.

Next time we will probably go after Zul’Gurub, the other 85++ 5 person heroic that was converted from a 10 person raid.  We shall see if that ends up feeling the same or not.  I don’t know if there is any look to match up to the 24 slot bag there, but there are some interest gear drops for tansmorg purposes.

There is no hurry to get into Pandaria and level 90.  We have plenty of time to take care of that between now and the fall.  Plus, you know, insta-90s and such.

Comments»

1. C. T. Murphy - March 27, 2014

I keep reading Earlthecat as a Earthakatt, which would obviously be the star of an all-Druid cabaret.

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2. Wilhelm Arcturus - March 27, 2014

Oh, and if Bhagpuss should wander by, all of these screen shots were taken between midnight and 3am realm/game time, to give a sense of how dark (or not) night is in Azeroth, in reference to that day/night cycle post of Syl’s from earlier in the week.

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3. Shintar - March 27, 2014

The original Zul’Aman was probably my favourite raid in the entire game, but I liked the revamp too because it was fairly faithful to the original and it was nice to see it make a comeback as “current content”, at least for a while.

It was also weird to see them add mechanics to fights that used to be challenging for a ten-man raid but were now considered too simplistic for a five-man. Really drove home the point of WoW’s endlessly increasing encounter complexity to me. Then again, back in Burning Crusade days, mechanics like Jan’alai’s dragonhawks were genuinely tough to deal with simply because most classes didn’t have much in terms of AoE abilities.

To succeed at the timed run and save all the scouts, you commonly started on Akil’zon and then went counter-clockwise from there.

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4. Jacob - March 28, 2014

You’ve mentioned that you don’t see your experience bar move much running these dungeons. I believe it’s because of a new design that Blizzard added at the end of Wrath / release of Cataclysm: characters who have reached the level suitable for expansion N will receive greatly reduced experience in the zones for expansion N-1.

So your group is all level 85, and ready for Mists of Pandaria, and Blizzard believes that giving you low experience in the Cataclysm zones will encourage you to go out into the new Mists zones (and discourage you from “slumming” in low-level zones).

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5. Matt - March 28, 2014

Jacob is right, The experience nerf was done purposely in Cataclysm after people got server first 85 by grinding easy level 80 mobs in Icecrown.

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6. Wilhelm Arcturus - March 28, 2014

@Jacob – Well, it is actually allowing us to finish low level instances without worrying about getting too far ahead for Pandaria. So, works for us!

@Matt – And now they are killing those world/server firsts of WoD.

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