October 10, 2009

Patch 3.3 PTR: Forge of Souls first impressions

Yesterday, the PTR servers were loaded with the most recent build of the upcoming 3.3 content. This included Forge of Souls, a new 5 player dungeon which is meant to be the introductory instance into Icecrown Citadel. As we made our way into the frozen halls of the citadel to where the dungeons are housed, we came across three portals. To the left was the Forge of Souls itself which is the first one you'll be allowed into. To the right was the Pit of Saron that Matthew Rossi covered earlier this week. Lastly, between the two was the Halls of Reflection, which strange rumors surround while its doors remain firmly locked. After opening the portcullis to the Forge we made our way inside. More of the adventure after the break.

When entering, the first thing you'll notice is a quest giver down the hallway. This happened to be Jaina Proudmoore decked out in her new model offering a simple "kill the bosses" type quest. Being as she just got her model made over, she couldn't be bothered to come along and help kill things, so we trudged onwards.

The instance is built as a kind of scourge industrial complex. You walk along metal catwalks high above large soul grinders below. The catwalks connect to the actual soul forges themselves that belch gouts of spiritual fire as the souls are tempered into weapons of the Lich King. Ghostly red skulls float over the empty expanses and the ambient sound is definitely a seven or eight on the creepy scale.

The first time we attempted the instance, we did it in normal mode. We had with us Alex Ziebart on a ret paladin, Christian Chase on a shadow priest, Matt "Matticus" Low on his priest, Tristan from The Elitists podcast as a shaman, and me tanking on a premade paladin. This made most of the encounters laughable as we were decked out in top of the line raid gear using our own characters or PTR premades. It was very difficult to notice any effects of bosses and exactly what was supposed to happen in the encounters. This might just be due to under tuning and could possibly end up being a bit more difficult once they've seen how easy it is for players to simply walk through unhindered. I believe Matt's comment at one point was that I literally was not taking any damage. Look for this to change.

So, we decided to run through it again on heroic mode to see if we could actually get some of the encounter flavor. While some of the trash was still under tuned, the bosses were much more difficult and required some coordination and at least a bit of strategy. This run included again Alex Ziebart on his paladin, Matt Low on a shaman, Mike Schramm on a ret paladin, Elizabeth Harper on a holy paladin, and myself tanking again. This time we hooked up the streaming feed so that people could watch as we mucked around in the instances.

The trash was pretty much one of two different flavors. You had a set of two big skeletal guards or a set of three to five casters mixed with melee. Currently, the skeletal guards are a bit under tuned and the pair are soloable by a decently geared paladin tank. The casters on the other hand caused a bit more of a problem with each pull. They're far enough from each other that it was difficult to get them gathered together to keep threat and thus you had to keep your eyes open to see where each were casting. This might be easier for a death knight as they'll be able to yank in any stragglers. They are also far enough apart that Avenger's Shield does not jump between them for the silencing effect. It's a bit of chaos as a result, but as the casters are primarily humanoid, a rogue could Sap one of them or a ret pally could use Repentance (which is what we ended up doing on a few pulls).

One interesting thing was that occasionally as you were walking between packs of trash, you'd be ambushed by one of those ghostly red skulls. While it didn't do much damage nor was its health all that high, it added a nice little scare element the first time we ran through. We actually had to stop for a second to make sure that the skulls floating over the open areas were in fact there for looks and not actual aggressive ghoulies. They weren't, so we continued onward a little more cautiously awaiting our next ambush.

After working our way through one of the soul forges, around and up to another we came across our first of two boss encounters in this instance: Bronjahm the Godfather of Souls. Or as we like to call him, James Brown the Godfather of Soul. James Brown looks like a nice little caster, but will kite along with the tank. This is important as he occasionally rips parts of your party's soul away from them and eats them for healing, but this appears to be a heroic only thing at the moment. When he rips your soul from your body, it slowly drifts across the floor towards him. Two things have to happen: the tank needs to kite the boss away from the soul shard a bit and the dps need to kill the split soul otherwise it heals the boss for a not insubstantial amount of health. Finally, when the boss starts to run low on health, he channels a spell that starts doing AoE damage to the entire party. This is the time to blow all of your cooldowns, pop Bloodlust/Heroism, and whatever trinkets everyone has to burn him down. The faster he gets burned down at the end, the happier your healer will be.

The trash between James Brown and the last boss, the Devourer of Souls, was more of the same until right at the end. Two single pulls called Spectral Wardens roamed about. These guys are untauntable. So, if you've been playing your threat loose and carefree (as we were in normal mode), your damage dealers might get a rude awakening. Give the tank a quick moment to grab threat on them just to be sure.

The Devourer of Souls should look familiar to those of you who have been through the Black Temple as it's the same model as the Reliquary of Souls. This thing actually wiped our party the first time we attempted it on heroic despite the high end gear of our premades. Its mirrored soul attack lets it share any incoming damage with one of your party members. You healers out there need to make sure to focus on them at this point in order to stay ahead of the damage. Shaman out there, this would be a really bad time to pop bloodlust/heroism unless you feel like killing your own party members. Devourer would jump to the party member it was about to mirror souls thus giving you a bit of notice. You can't dispel it, but with our party being full of paladins we were able to bubble out of it with Divine Shield. For our non-paladin friends, Elizabeth was chain casting Flash of Light on them and was able to keep up with the incoming damage, but your mileage may vary.

At different points, Devourer would call forth dozens of intangible spirits to its aid which attacked the entire party. There isn't anything that can be done about them as they're not attackable, so just ignore them and accept that you'll take some damage. They do give an epic feel to the encounter though as your screen is filled with them coming from all directions. Also, at various points, Devourer will start shooting a beam out much like C'thun's Eye Beam or Mimiron's Laser Barrage going counter-clockwise. This does a ton of damage and should be actively avoided or you'll soon be sitting at the spirit healer wondering what happened.

As you've driven home the final blow to the Devourer of Souls, Jaina Proudmoore along with a small army burst into the room. If your first response is, "Where the heck were you like two minutes ago?!" then you'd feel right at home in our party. After she appeared, she allowed us to hand in our quests and two of her mages started casting what is probably supposed to be a portal to the Pit of Saron, but that part isn't implemented yet.

All in all, the dungeon gave a good precursor to the Icecrown final encounter and if you take Pit of Saron into account as well, the three dungeons should give a good amount of story. The bosses were interesting and the graphics for their spells and abilities gave a more epic feel than a lot of dungeons.

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