Review: The Call of the Crusade

Greetings Gamerfriends! When we last left our hero, I was grumpy. I have had marginally more sleep this week (hazards of dealing with murder cases, I am afraid!), so this will be a much more positive review of World of Warcraft’s latest content patch, The Call of the Crusade.

However, instead of writing about whether this has been good or bad in terms of gameplay, mechanics, and so forth, I am going to discuss it in terms of style and story. Be warned! Spoilers will follow.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW!

This is where the magic happens.  Also, the axes.
This is where the magic happens. Also, the axes.

When the expansion started, a whole new continent lay before the heroes of the Alliance and the Horde. Great ruins of civilizations past lay waiting beneath the snow and ice of Northrend. Darkness and evil sat malevolently at its heart, sending forth waves of undeath to challenge these heroes at every turn. Beneath the vaults of antiquity, a being of ancient and maddening chaos was slipping its chains. Great and powerful dragons of the five flights were gathered together, though some pursued their own ends. Magic was destabilized as the Aspect of Magic turned in rebellion against the sapient races of Azeroth.

Now, the final fight looms ahead, getting closer every day. The brave soldiers of the Argent Crusade prepare for their final assault on Icecrown Citadel, wherein the heroes of Azeroth will face Arthas Menethil, more widely known as the Lich King.

Malygos, rebel dragon lord of magic, has been slain and magic’s constancy restored. The flying necropolis of Naxxramas, held by the Lich King’s chief lieutenant Kel’thuzad, has been destroyed. Sartharion, the Onyx Guardian, and his Twilight Dragon brood have been stopped… for now. Yogg-Saron, the Old God of Death, lies eternally dead in a pool of his own slime far beneath the Titan-made vaults of Ulduar, his maddening whispers silenced.

In celebration, and to test the mettle of the warriors of Azeroth one last time, Tirion Fordring, one of the greatest heroes of the age, has staged a great tournament beneath the fortress of the Lich King.

When heroes first enter the arena, they are met with four of the most vile beasts of the continent of Northrend, including not one, but two jormungar worms. This fight feels much like a Roman gladiatorial combat between man and beast. Three waves of beasts emerge, angered by the cheers and jeers of the waiting spectators.

Story-wise, this fight is light on lore and more about warming the players up. Style-wise, it is an interesting mix of boss fight dynamics, each wave meant to test the skills of a different group of players so that no one gets bored or feels like the fight is on easy-mode.

When Gormok the Impaler, Acidmaw, Dreadscale and Icehowl lay vanquished upon the floor, Grand Warlock Wilfred Fizzlebang (from the stupid name, he has to be a gnome) appears. Pumped up on pomp and arrogance, this diminutive summoner calls forth a demon that is just a bit too unclean for him to control.

The introduction is actually quite humorous, and I don’t mean that it is funny just because a gnome gets killed. Astute players will note that Fizzlebang the NPC sits outside the raid instance, bragging to anyone that will hear about his greatness. Hubris has been known to be one of the basic story patterns since our own distant antiquity.

I love the smell of toasted gnome in the morning...
I love the smell of toasted gnome in the morning...

After Fizzlebang fizzles out, the man’ari Eredar lord Jaraxxus turns on the players. This fight hearkens back to expansions past, as it is filled with demonesses, infernal beings, and the sickly green fel fire that flickered off nearly everything in The Burning Crusade. It is a fast-paced fight, perfectly in keeping with its story structure of pride gone horribly, terribly wrong.

When the demon lord is no more, factional differences between the Alliance and Horde flare up under the tender ministrations of Azeroth’s version of Dick Cheney. If one happens to be of the noble Alliance, then Horde flunky Garrosh Hellscream will demand, over his chieftain’s objections, that the Horde be allowed to revenge itself upon the demon-summoning and treacherous alliance. If one happens to be of the savage, stinky Horde, then Stormwindian firebrand King Varian Wrynn will demand satisfaction. Nevertheless, the result is the same: a number of the opposing faction’s champions will enter the arena seeking blood.

The Faction Champions fight is perhaps the most difficult, as it should be. Rather than fighting the enemy of all life (or unlife, as the case may be), petty squabbles have overtaken a moment that should show solidarity. Tirion Fordring’s speech upon the defeat of the Champions sums this up: we are all weaker for such a display.

Nevertheless, the fight must go on as the heroes face their final arena match, that of two Twin Val’kyr, winged servants of the Lich King. This fight will see heroes divided between light and dark as they attempt to master these elements in an attempt to restore balance. The fight feels anticlimactic after the hectic and threatening melee of the Faction Champions.

When the Twin Val’kyr are destroyed, the Crusade is free to celebrate! Our heroes have emerged victorious and proven themselves capable warriors all, ready to tackle the challenges of the Lich King.

Except the Lich King has other ideas.

One cannot thumb one’s nose at evil and expect to go unnoticed.

The Lich King himself appears to steal the thunder of the victory celebration. A challenge is issued to Arthas: it is time to stand and fight, a final confrontation between the Ashbringer of Fordring and the Lich King’s fell runeblade Frostmourne.

We are, however, denied this spectacle as the Lich King sends all of the heroes far beneath the earth, to the subterranean pits of Azjol-Nerub, the forgotten, cobwebbed city of the undead spiders. Who should appear here but Anub’Arak, one of the Lich King’s oldest minions, thought dead and destroyed when players first ventured into the Nerubian city-state.

Admit it... AnubArak is sorta scary...
Admit it... Anub'Arak is sorta scary...

Those who serve death may so conquer it, and Anub’Arak has returned from beyond the grave to once again torment the champions of Azeroth. In a fight that is sufficiently epic to satisfy any raider’s taste, players will send him to his eternal rest once and for all, balancing their own life against the Spider Lord’s. For as much as they are restored, so is he. All three types of players (tanks, DPS and healers) must balance their skills (threat, damage and healing) in harmony or risk a critical imbalance, wiping the raid.

Answering the Call of the Argent Crusade is smaller in scale than the previous large raids, but it feels like events are starting to ramp up toward the final fight, like the world holds its breath as the gates of Icecrown finally open and one of the greatest threats to life and warmth strides forth to do battle with players. It may be light on lore, but it’s large on fun, humor and contains a sufficiently epic conclusion to make it satisfying enough to tide us over before the main course.

And, of course, we fight not one, but TWO jormungars.

TWO.

JORMUNGARS.

6 comments

  1. I am puzzled as to why you describe the Alliance as valiant when it is populated solely by twelve-year-olds who don’t know what punctuation or capital letters are for.

    I’m only 72 at present, so no CotC for me: but as soon as I hit 80, I’m going to see what I can do abut getting involved.

    As with previous WoW expansions, a lot of this stuff is heavily dependent upon getting into a guild that does it–this has been one of my complaints about WoW end-game content since day one, and sadly remains so.

  2. Two words: roleplaying server. The maturity level increases dramatically.

    Obviously my guild (which is a top 5 10-man progression guild on my server) aids in my enjoyment. But the nice thin about ToC is that a competent pickup group can do the normal mode. With tools like Puggable and Pugchecker, this vastly improves.

    I would like to see either less guild-bound endgame on more servers. My server NASA perfect solution: Leftovers Raiding. It’s a way for the non-guilded and “leftover” raiders to pug with other mature, competent players using an out-of-game scheduling system. LO raids tend to be very, very successful, and many top guilds use them
    to recruit new players.

  3. @Lane: I’m on an RP server–indeed, I’ve only ever played on RP servers. When the game was released I tried out a normal server and was scared away permanently.

    Tell me more of these ‘Leftover’ raiders.

  4. Which RP server? Silver Hand has its morons (I keep a blacklist of them) but overall, we’ve got a very supportive and hardworking raiding community that even stretches across faction lines. For instance, we all think Garrosh is a douche.

  5. Previously it was Ravenholdt, where the Alliance were unbelieveably awful. I am not speaking across a divide either–I started on Ravenholdt as an ally. The total idiocy of the Ally players there convinced me to switch to Horde once and for all.

    Recently we moved to Moon Guard which is PvE-PvP, and I’ve found this is generally much better on both sides of the equation.

    And Garrosh is a douche.

  6. I’ve really enjoyed the new content, though it’s a bit light. Most competent guilds power through every version of ToC in one or two evenings, depending on how long they play.

    It feels almost like a mini gear reset, designed to ensure that everyone is ready and able to tackle Icecrown Citadel. I know that I got very little 25-man Ulduar gear, the loot gods just did not smile upon Hunters (but by god, plate wearers were the Chosen People) so I guess this is fair enough. It is still challenging enough that scrubs cannot waltz in and upgrade from crafted blues to T9.

    I wish it were a smidge longer, though. If I didn’t constantly wipe against the Alliance champions, the instance would be over before I knew what was happening. And you’re right, it’s fun! There’s a different vibe in ToC, because it’s just endless boss battles and no piddly trash.

    Lok’tar Ogal!
    And I smell lovely.

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