When I first heard we were getting Zul'Aman and Zul'Gurub back as 5-man dungeons, I have to admit, I groaned. Don't get me wrong, I love the evolving Amani/Gurubashi lore and that their storylines were continued, and since I never got to do these two raids at the proper level, I was excited to actually step inside and experience them.
But really? MORE Troll instances? Ugh.
I'm not sure what it is about Troll dungeons, but I am entirely sick of them. Maybe it's the architecture? The tribal settings? Maybe I'm just sick of killing Trolls! It could also harken back to a gruesome stretch in Wrath when I got Gundrak repeatedly for about two weeks straight as my random heroic. That's enough to turn anyone off Trolls for a long time.
It seems like everywhere we go we're deluged with Troll this, Troll that. Zul'Farrak, the Hinterlands, Stranglethorn Vale, Zul'drak, Drak'Tharon Keep...Trolls, Trolls everywhere! I mean, I know they're an integral part of Azeroth history, and they're a fun race with lot of flavor, sure...but enough is enough! I think that's why I loved Burning Crusade and Outlands. NO TROLL DUNGEONS/ZONES!
The new Zul instances are the icing on the cake. As fun as it was to have some new dungeons to run, I can't help but shudder every time I queue for one. Not because they're difficult or long, but just...blah, Trolls.
Gundrak. If I never see this load screen again, it will be too soon.
Personally, I'd love to see dungeons based around the other playable races. It's really almost unfair (even if it makes sense canonically) to have so many Troll dungeons, while many of the other races have only a single racial dungeon, or in the case of the Tauren, NONE. For example, the Night Elves have Dire Maul, but where's the rest of their ruined cities? They've clearly lived in many different locations, judging from the vast number of Kaldorei Archaeology sites. And the Tauren, I know they're nomadic and all, but look at Thunder Bluff and its design, and tell me Blizzard couldn't design a rad dungeon that "felt" Tauren, with rope bridges, totem poles, etc.
There's just something awesome about being in a dungeon that stylistically feels like a race's capital city!
Personally? I'd love to see a new Human-based instance.
Now, I'm not talking about stupid Stockades, which is just a pit in the ground, or Shadowfang Keep, which has more of a creepy/ghostly "Haunted Mansion" feel. No, I'm talking magnificent human architecture along the lines of Stormwind's major buildings - grand, wide halls, sweeping arches, cobblestone streets...the classic, majestic "castle" feel. Design and layout that really captures the boldness and strength of the human soul, their willpower and pride.
Scarlet Monastery isn't too bad, but it's not quite the same as the awe-inspiring presence Stormwind possesses. And with the exception of Cathedral, the Monastery is actually really cramped and claustrophobic.
Of course, as cool as the aesthetics would be, it would have to have some awesome storylines. I think that's another reason I find the Zulroics so boring - there's no story there. Not really. I appreciate the allusions to the past, and the fact that many of the bosses "remember" what happened before...but it all seems rather vague and unimportant.
Would a new magnificent Human dungeon even be possible? I mean, it would have to be an already-existing location, unless Deathwing suddenly chases everyone out of Stormwind and moves in (which, as a Horde player, I would find hilarious). And even if the Forsaken were to abandon Lordaeron, it's hardly even recognizable as a Human city now.
So Stormwind and Lordaeron are both out (not that Blizzard would ever convert them into dungeons, anyway), but they're not the only major Human empires to exist. In fact, there's one in particular that still exists in-game, is still occupied, and whose story is still largely untold.
This kingdom in Arathi Highlands used to be one of Humanity's great powers, but has fallen on hard times since the nation's glory days. The keep's courtyards lie in ruins, and its ruling lineage are all deceased, missing or holed up in some crappy pile of rocks in Hellfire Peninsula.
Furthermore, Stromgarde is an amazingly volatile nest of activity that is ripe for further development. The remnants of Stromgarde's forces struggle desperately to take back their home, from brutish Ogres squatters in the east and plotting Syndicate agents in the north, all the while Horde agents are sneaking around sabotaging everyone.
This broken stronghold has become a warzone, full of fascinating history, bitter grudges (including cross-faction enmities, which are always fun), and intriguing lore possibilities, some of which were newly introduced in Cataclysm.
Talk about potential!
(Sidenote: If you haven't already, I would recommend reading a previous post I wrote regarding Galen Trollbane, Stromgarde and Danath Trollbane, as the rest of this entry expands on ideas first presented in that post.)
First things first, the courtyard and layout itself. It's a sprawling area, with outlying houses and domiciles, along with countless nooks and crannies. Three distinct, separated areas are in the west, while the east is split into two large zones. There is also a prominent castle entrance, though much of the interior seems to be currently inaccessible or blocked by rubble, including the basement access.
Also? It's BIG. I mean, FREAKING HUGE. Do you know how many creatures are actually located within Stromgarde's walls? I combed the grounds and roughly placed them on the map, and there are 124. That's far more than some existing dungeons, such as Hellfire Ramparts or Throne of the Tides. (I may also have missed a few...damn stealthed mobs.)
So how would this work as an instance? Well hell, it already FEELS instanced, just walking through the main gates! Cross that threshold, and you're suddenly no longer in the wild grassland hills of Arathi battling spiders and raptors - now you're in this contained, tense environment, up against all manner of entrenched, hard-as-nails soldiers. And with four factions fighting each other, all for different purposes, I always feel slightly apprehensive, like I was about to be caught in the middle of a very heated and very personal grudge match.
You know those war movies where the characters have to rush down a war-torn street while bullets are buzzing around them, bodies are covering the ground, planes are soaring overhead and you can hear bombs and explosions coming from every direction? That's how I envision Stromgarde would feel; tense, panicked, with a palpable feeling of danger at every turn.
Mechanically, the flow of the courtyards would have to be adjusted, as Blizzard can't really expect players to keep reaching dead ends and backtracking. But it would actually be very easy to convert Stromgarde's outer districts into a linear path - simply block off a few alleyways with rubble or barricades, open up a few crumbling gaps in the walls, and bam - done! Here's how I'd design the route:
As perfect as the already-existing castle grounds are, though, it's the flavor and story potential in Stromgarde that would make it a truly memorable and awesome instance. Blizzard could duplicate the approach they used in the revamped Shadowfang Keep, by establishing slightly different versions for Alliance and Horde players. Even if it was nothing more than receiving quests from Packleader Ivar Bloodfang (Alliance) instead of Deathstalker Commander Belmont (Horde), I felt it added a nice touch and really emphasized the ever-present Horde vs. Alliance conflict that has returned to the forefront in Cataclysm.
In Shadowfang Keep, Horde players have different reasons to kill Lord Godfrey and his men than Alliance players do, and this would also be true in Stromgarde. However, Stromgarde's unique situation - the presence of four independent, hostile factions constantly battling and skirmishing - would also allow for some great shared objectives!
Alliance players could be greeted by a Human military force attempting to finally re-take Stromgarde from the various invaders. Maybe they're the Stromgarde NPCs who have always been there, like Deneb Walker, Apprentice Kryten or Caretakers Alaric, Nevlin and Weston. Perhaps it's Varian himself, looking to establish an Alliance presence in the northern Eastern Kingdoms - something even more essential lately, considering the growing Forsaken threat and the loss of Gilneas, Southshore and Andorhol. And this type of dynastic military operation seems like something Varian would want to be personally involved in, especially if it's going to piss off the Forsaken.
Of course, maybe Alliance players would zone in and see none other than Danath Trollbane himself standing there, home from the Outlands, pissed and ready to take by back his ancestral home with his own hands (or with the honed edge of a Reforged Trollbane).
Meanwhile, I imagine Horde players would meet up with a squad of Forsaken soldiers, perhaps led by Dark Ranger Alina, the quest giver Horde players encounter earlier in the zone, or maybe High Warlord Cromush, since he's clearly kicking around the Arathi/Alterac region. But the most noteworthy member of this group would undoubtedly be the Fallen Prince of Stromgarde and newly-turned Forsaken Galen Trollbane, wielding the legendary Trol'kalar, ready to lead his new people into the remnants of his former home for whatever purpose the Banshee Queen desires. After all, who better to direct this mission than the former Prince himself? He knows the layout, he knows the streets, and best of all, he knows all its secrets.
And he serves only Sylvanas...right?
From here, the storylines basically write themselves. Alliance would help Danath retake his kingdom, driving out the Boulderfist Ogres and Witherbark Trolls that have settled into the ruins, thwarting Horde looters and treasure-seekers seeking plunder, perhaps even recover artifacts or family heirlooms that were lost when the city fell.
Horde players, on the other hand, would ALSO eliminate the Ogres and Trolls (because they're in the way), dispatch Stromgarde survivors who - naturally - aren't too happy to see the Horde strolling around, and claim those lost artifacts for the Horde.
Much like the Nexus, where Horde and Alliance players battle frozen soldiers of the opposite faction, I think Stromgarde would be the perfect chance for bosses and events that varied depending what side you were on.
And speaking of artifacts, it sure would be interesting if the mysterious, faction-neutral Dominic from Scarlet Monastery showed up and asked players to fetch him some special items or to eliminate a few key individuals. No questions asked, of course...
Another random thought - perhaps Dark Ranger Alina has something else in mind for Stromgarde. When Horde players complete the quest Call to Arms, Alina comments that the "ramshackle hold needs to be razed into dust" but adds, almost as an afterthought, that "the land would make a decent spot for a new Undercity in its place." Intriguing. Is this simple idle musing? Or have the Dark Rangers - Sylvanas' inner circle - been told to keep their eyes open for a possible new Undercity location? And if so...why?
The nice thing about these faction-separate quests would be the potential long-term ramifications. The Alliance would be establishing the initial foothold necessary for Stromgarde's eventual recovery as a nation, re-taking one of humanity's oldest and proudest legacies, and finally opposing the rampant Forsaken on their home territory. Sylvanas has been on quite the alarming winning streak lately when it comes to seizing territory, something that I'm sure isn't sitting well with Varian and the rest of the Alliance.
For Horde, however, it's a much different story. Seizing Stromgarde would solidly place control of the North under Forsaken control, as well as cut off any possible ground reinforcements for Aerie Peak in the Hinterlands, home of the Wildhammers. It would also be a significant symbolic victory - turning Galen Trollbane to her cause AND conquering his ancient home would make the Alliance EXTREMELY uneasy and demoralized. If she can do that, what's next? The Thandol Span, bridging Arathi and the Wetlands? Menethil Harbor? The Loch? Where does the Forsaken war machine stop?
Already, it's easy to see that the outer Stromgarde areas would make for some delicious plot development. But what about inside the castle proper? As great as the Horde/Alliance squabbles are, there's still the mysterious and somewhat overlooked presence of the Syndicate firmly nestled in the heart of this fallen nation.
Ah, the Syndicate. This criminal organization has plagued both factions for years, ever since Aiden Perenolde, disgraced former king of Alterac, founded the group after being stripped of his rank and title. But while other factions and storylines that date back to Vanilla WoW have been updated and adapted to the Cataclysm world, the Syndicate is...still the same band of rogues and scoundrels as always.
Before, they seemed a genuine threat, lurking everywhere in Alterac, seemingly nestled into every nook and cranny in the Hillsbrad and Arathi hills, always stealthed and waiting to jump you and ruin your day. But now? They're just some random thugs who don't really have any sort of purpose or identity.
What a waste!
Have they been silently biding their time, making devious plans and schemes of their own? Or are they desperately fighting to survive, like so many in the post-Shattering world?
In my post "Why I would love to see Heroic Scarlet Monastery" I stated that Blizzard should close the book on the Scarlet Crusade with a bang, rather than letting them taper off into obscurity. I mean, the Crusade was legendary back in the day, and a serious threat! But now, in their dying, waning days? They've become a joke, a punchline, a pathetic, hollow shell of the fearsome faction they used to be. Give them one last hurrah, and tie up all those unresolved loose ends.
I think it's the same deal with the Syndicate. They're dangerously close to being forgotten, their story hooks and lore potential wasted. I mean really, how many newer players encounter Syndicate mobs now and have absolutely no idea who they are? ("Ravenholdt reputation? Who the hell is Ravenholdt?")
We know that the Syndicate is using Stromgarde as their primary base of operations, and that one of their leaders - Lord Falconcrest - currently leads the band of thieves and criminals from within the main halls. But Falconcrest isn't the only Syndicate boss; the group's other known leader is one Lord Aliden Perenolde, Aiden's son, who used to live on the outskirts of the Alterac Mountains. His cottage survived the Shattering unharmed, but Aliden himself has been mysteriously missing ever since. Where else could he have gone but Stromgarde, to join up with the rest of his crew?
Aliden Perenolde, pre-Shattering. Mysteriously missing and absent since then...
Stromgarde would be the perfect opportunity to bring the Syndicate back into the spotlight for a badass, memorable burst of glory, and let players put an end to their legacy once and for all. All those years of Ravenholdt reputation and Bloodstone Amulets, finally paying off!
The Syndicate could make their last stand in the depths of the keep, retreating deeper and deeper into the run-down, battered ruins. The basement entry is currently blockaded, but wouldn't it be shocking - and awesome - if we broke through, only to discover an extensive series of underground chambers and halls on the same scale and majesty as Stormwind Keep?
Of course, there would be one final quest to finish off the instance: Kill Perenolde, severing the head of the Syndicate leadership and dealing them a loss from which they'd likely never recover. But why stop there? There just so happens to be a few other little hooks with Perenolde that could come into play here...
(If you read my post "The dark secrets and partnerships of Alterac" then you likely know where this is leading.)
One of Perenolde's housemates, back when he lived in lakeside cottage, was an Orc named Nagaz. Alliance players learned that Nagaz was a member of the Argus Wake, a group affiliated with the Shadow Council (and by association, the Burning Legion.) Now, Nagaz is nowhere to be found in Stromgarde, but there IS a rarespawn mob chilling on the fountain just outside the keep entrance, a woman named Darbel Montrose. And guess what group she belongs to? You got it - Shadow Council.
With the possible connection to the Shadow Council and Burning Legion, suddenly the Syndicate becomes a legitimate wildcard. Who knows what lurks within Stromgarde's walls? Is it just a band of rebels and cutthroats? Or is it something else? Aliden's daddy was brave (or desperate) enough to make a deal with otherworldly, savage creatures bent on chaos and destruction (the original Horde). Maybe the sneaky apple doesn't fall far from the traitor tree.
If ever there was a hint at demonic influence, it would be the keep entry, because WTF IS THAT?!
Finally, maybe witnesses remember Perenolde arriving at Stromgarde with a prisoner. A human female prisoner. Alliance players would set out to kill Perenolde and free this poor woman, while Horde players might be asked to kill Perenolde and claim this potentially useful hostage for the Banshee Queen's benefit.
After players have finished off Perenolde, Danath or Alina (and their troops) would walk in, grab the keys from Perenolde's corpse and proceed to unlock the heavy prison door nearby, eager to see who waited within. And everyone present would gape, shocked and stunned, as the girl who stumbled out raggedly explained that while Perenolde and the rest of her jailors had always called her Elysa, her true identity - and reason she had been kept captive for all these years - was actually Calia Menethil, daughter of Terenas Menethil and rightful heir to the throne of Lordaeron.
(If you're confused at this theory, please go read THIS post.)
As Lordaeron's neighbors, the Stromgarde soldiers would instantly recognize her and break into cheers and salutes, and Danath would be overjoyed, eager to share this amazing news with Varian and the rest of the Alliance. Calia and Danath very likely knew each other before Lordaeron fell - how tender a moment would it be if Calia emerged from her awful imprisonment only to see "Uncle" Danath there waiting for her?
The Horde denouement would be vastly different, however. Alina would surely be thrilled at capturing such a valuable prize, and order her troops to seize Calia and cart her away. Her glee might be somewhat tempered when, to her surprise, the Forsaken soldiers do not obey her command, instead slowly, disbelievingly, sinking to one knee in reverence.
One of the only surviving links to their forgotten past, a Princess they knew and loved in life, suddenly back from the grave? And they were the ones to find and rescue her? When their entire culture is based around the idea that the world had robbed them of everything they held dear, the sudden reappearance of their beloved Princess might throw their entire world view into upheaval.
Additionally, Galen might be even more shocked to see her. As Prince and Princess of neighboring nations, it's very possible that he and Calia were childhood friends. Who knows what kind of effect this emotional shock might have on him?
Calia's rescue would be more than a simple life saved. She would represent everything the Forsaken had thought permanently lost and stolen from them. She would represent an entirely foreign concept to the Forsaken - Hope.
And that's not necessarily something Sylvanas would be in favor of.
The instance would "end" with the frustrated Alina handing over the players' quest rewards, while tersely remarking that Sylvanas would need to be notified about this surprising turn of events...immediately.
The eternal Horde vs. Alliance conflict. Sylvanas' increasingly strong hold on the northern Eastern Continents. The return of Danath Trollbane. The mysterious Galen Trollbane, Forsaken. The Syndicate. Aliden Perenolde. "Elysa". The Shadow Council. And more history, grudges and old feuds than you can shake a stick at.
Now THAT would be a new dungeon I'd be excited about.