2. The Sword in the Skull
World of Warcraft
is steeped pretty firmly in the most basic and primal of fantasy tropes, and the epic quest for a magic weapon is something even a newcomer to the genre can recognize. For better or worse, most of the game's truly exemplary weapons -- the legendaries -- have been confined to a very small portion of players at the highest tier of the raid game. If you weren't in a progression-oriented guild at the time when these weapons made a real difference to a raid, you had no shot at Sulfuras
, the Warglaives
of Azzinoth, or Thori'dal
, just as you've got no shot at Val'anyr
without a fairly competent raiding guild in Wrath
. While this achieves the desired effect -- the weapon stays rare and a tantalizing goal for anyone who needs an extra shove in the direction of the game's truly difficult content -- the usual process of building a legendary or waiting for one to drop has a mixed effect at best on players
The Battered Hilt
quest line combines some of the best elements of legendary-hunting with a huge wallop of political intrigue and lore. Yes, there's a lot of RNG to hurdle at the very beginning, as all those of us who've run the Icecrown heroics a lot already know, but the evil bit is slightly mitigated by the hilt's BoE status. Once you're on the quest line, it's all gravy. You get:
- a good look at the tensions between the Sunreavers and the Silver Covenant
- a trip to the Wyrmrest Temple so the dragons can tell you to your face that they're not sure reforging Quel'dalar is a good idea, and they gave a book necessary to its identification to someone else, anyway
- an introduction to the Dalaran laundryman (the fact that neither faction of elves in Dalaran can be bothered to do its own laundry strikes me as hilariously realistic)
- a great cutscene in Icecrown that was an early introduction to Blood Queen Lana'thel
- some irritated advice from Uther the Lightbringer, who reminds you that repairing ancient swords with the blood of malevolent Old Gods is generally ill-advised
- after the sword's reforging, a trip to visit the ghost of the Quel'dalar's original bearer, and thence to a phased Sunwell Plateau, followed by the sword's purification in the reignited Sunwell
I'll grant that a bit of the epic feel goes by the wayside if you're a priest, druid or shaman and find yourself at the end of the quest line clutching a beautiful weapon that you, uh, can't actually use. If you're among these unfortunates, there's even a /headdesk moment toward the end as you gift-wrap a historic sword for an elvish faction to which you're not particularly attached and then inquire on the status of whatever other ridiculously powerful weapons they might have hanging around the back. My question -- couldn't Blizzard have programmed a dagger into the game that looked like Quel'dalar, like the Netherbreath Spellblade
model that's a sword in everything but name only? But these are ultimately small concerns in the face of what's otherwise a great achievement from start to end.
As an ilevel 251, Quel'dalar may not last you if you wind up doing any serious raiding in Icecrown Citadel, but it's a high-quality weapon nonetheless. Interestingly, Quel'dalar's "sister blade" -- Quel'serrar
-- was another beautiful sword largely accessible without serious raiding (although it did require a trip to Onyxia and a bit of luck).
By the way, one of the more interesting bits about the quest series is how the dialogue is subtly altered for blood elves
1. Veteran of the Wrathgate
How could number one be anything else?
I'm cheating here slightly as I feel the achievement should rightfully encompass the subsequent Battle for the Undercity
as well, but you really can't have one without the other ... for now. That'll change when Cataclysm hits
and the battle goes bye-bye, as it won't then fit within the game's story progression. But who cares? You can argue that a huge dose of Cataclysm
's story can be traced back to the events that occurred in front of Angrathar anyway; it's the common point from which the modern political landscape emerges, and with it a reordered Azeroth (Deathwing's own efforts aside).
Veteran of the Wrathgate
is the achievement you're awarded for what's quite possibly the most expansive and ambitious quest line that Blizzard's ever done (and one that must have been a nightmare to plan and program). Having played both an Alliance and Horde toon through the content, I maintain that the story arc for both is fantastic, but I think the Alliance has the edge when it comes to the questing before Angrathar -- they have a much more extensive and personal history with Arthas, period, regardless of the protests you'll hear issued from the Forsaken and blood elf camps -- but the Horde has the edge afterwards in the Undercity battle. If you're a Horde player, you're never going to forget the end of the fight with a quietly devastated Thrall, who pulls himself out of his misery long enough to express condolences to Saurfang over the loss of his son.
The events at Angrathar ended, perhaps forever, the détente between the Alliance and the Horde. It sparked arguments among players on the extent of the Horde's responsibility, the wisdom of Thrall's willingness to trust people like Sylvanas, and what role King Wrynn's reaction to the presumed death of his oldest friend played in the rising political fortunes of Garrosh Hellscream. Let's not forget that it also landed Bolvar Fordragon in the Lich King's throne, to what ultimate effect we don't even know. The entire quest chain from start to finish was a lovely and practiced bit of storytelling, but I think the fallout from it has been even better.
Veteran of the Wrathgate could not be a better experience if you have even the slightest interest in Azeroth. I love the subtlety of the storyline preceding it and how different each faction's path is to the battle. I love the Alliance's grimness as it sets itself to the task of avenging a fallen kingdom and how slimy the Royal Apothecary Society is while it has you out doing the dirty work. I love that your character is literally above the actual battlefield as the fight takes place, and I love the epic cutscene that blew everyone's mind
when it was first datamined. I especially love that you get one brief, shining moment of interfaction cooperation -- Fordragon and Saurfang's little moment in the heat of the battle -- before it all comes crashing down.
I give Blizzard a lot of crap whenever I don't think it's done something well, but fair's fair; in an MMORPG where you're trying to balance a mostly-static world with the individual desire of each player for an epic story, it's damn hard to pull off something of this magnitude, but that's exactly what it did. While I've shied away from the apellation of "best" to any achievement on this list because the term is a little vague, I firmly believe that, by any metric you could name, this is the best achievement in the game.
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