Preliminary thoughts and caveats
Zul'Gurub is in no way finished. The layout of the dungeon is complete and the setup is complete, but the boss encounters, as well as some of the potential mini-boss aspects of the dungeon are in no way finished. That being said, the encounters that were finished are awesome, relying more on the fun boss gimmick aspects of Cataclysm dungeons and The Deadmines remake rather than the old world boss ability philosophy. These encounters require lots of moving, dodging, and good old-fashioned being on your toes, which is what I expect from Cataclysm heroics.
As of right now, I believe the place is undertuned. Many of the encounters felt easier than they should be, and there was the potential that some of the phase aspects of the fights went quicker than they are intended to go. High Priestess Kilnara, for instance, is the new panther boss, and the fight plays similarly to the old panther boss, but with some new twists. The final panther attack, however, felt like a burn-down-the-boss phase when it is probably going to be something different come final release.
I was playing on a premade night elf warrior in full 346 heroic gear, tanking the entire time. Joining me was a random group of players, mostly from the EU, and I wanted to say a quick thank you to them for spending the time with me, pushing from beginning to end, and getting to see the whole place. Togi the hunter, Butchii the warrior, Fyy the priest, and Snowflake the shaman, I salute you all.
Entering new Zul'Gurub
The new 5-man story picks up where the events in Northern Stranglethorn left off, for the most part. Jin'do, now resurrected, has taken back control of Zul'Gurub and the Gurubashi trolls are under his ward. Many of the Zandalari trolls you remember are back and again assaulting the city. You grab some quests at the beginning and it's off you go.
The first thing you notice in the new Zul'Gurub are vats of different types of toxins or elements. There are three -- frost, fire, and toxin (poison). Each will play a crucial role in the dungeon, as you will soon find out.
After killing the first venom priestess in front of her cauldron, you can activate the cauldron to receive a buff that will reduce poison/nature damage taken by 85% for 30 seconds. You will use this buff to run through a poison gauntlet, taking extreme damage without the buff, thwarting another venom priestess, and finally making your way across the first bridge. It's frantic and fast-paced.
Fun fact: The area leading up to Hir'eek's old area is blocked by a fallen tree and is not able to be reached. No more "Lord Hir'eek, grant me wings of vengeance."
You'll then be faced with a tiki god and an enormous tortoise, then continue on to another poison cauldron outside of Venoxis' area. Here, you will use the poison cauldron to negate deadly poison by Venoxis' guards. Then, it's on the Venoxis.
Dance, poison, dance
Venoxis is a completely different encounter then from when we last saw him. He starts atop his poisonous throne (don't go up there, you'll regret it) in his troll priest form. After engaging him, he will move off the platform and begin fighting. He will cast a poison link spell that will target two players, who must move away from each other to break the link, but they will both explode when it happens, taking moderate damage, all the while casting poison bolts that can be interrupted. While doing this, Venoxis will cast a spell that will send two poison beams out into the area, splashing poison on the ground into the shape of a maze all around the area. This maze of poison comes into play in stage 2.
Venoxis will eventually transform into his serpent form and begin to spew toxin in a cone in front of him. The tank must side-step away from the poison or die in just a few hits. This stuff hurts. All the while, your group will be trying to keep themselves in the maze of poison, trying not to step in the deadly mixture.
For stage 2, Venoxis will return to his throne, much like Heigan during the dance phase of his encounter and, yes, require you to dance. Well, not dance, so much as run away through the poison maze, kiting beams of poison that will be targeting members of the group. You'll have to carefully navigate the maze while being trailed by beams of poison or die.
Venoxis died relatively quickly for us, as ranged finished him off while he was on his throne, and we even got an achievement for not getting hit by all sorts of crap while fighting him.
Venoxis score card:
Fun rating: Very
Challenge: Undertuned; fight went too quickly
Difficulty: You better know how to move.
After Venoxis, you begin the trek towards the old spider-boss High Priestess Mar'li and Mandokir areas. Mar'li's area is closed off, and the only path now leads to a totally revamped Mandokir area.
Gone is the second area with Mandokir atop his ziggurat -- now, only the Gurubashi fighting arena is available. A new cauldron presented itself -- a frost mixture -- that would instantly freeze an enemy with your next attack. This freeze only happens once and brings the enemy down to about 15% health, allowing you to quickly kill the multitude of enemies on your way to Mandokir.
Sadly, we did not get to fight Mandokir, because we used the frost cauldron and he got affected by the frost and died almost instantly. This fight is probably not working as intended. We'll have to revisit Mandokir in the future. It is a public test, after all.
Mandokir score card:
Fun rating: Oops
Challenge: We broke it.
Difficulty: Not working as intended
Forgotten Wushoolay and the Edge of Madness
Before continuing on, a group of trolls are praying before their priestess, whom you quickly dispatch. Her disciples then transform into snakes and make things go not so smoothly. Wushoolay's domain is your next stop.
Wushoolay was not usually fought in the original Zul'Gurub because his summoning ritual was a bit of a chore. Now, however, things are different. After fighting a few enemies, you are left in a room with many artifacts from many of the different types of dig sites archaeologists visit on the Eastern Kingdoms. Finding the correct artifacts and activating them begins the summoning ritual of Wushoolay, calling him into being.
The fight is simple but a lot of fun. Wushoolay's primary attacks are lightning-based, and he will cast many interruptable spells. Much like Siamat in the Lost City of Tol'vir, Wushoolay will call down thunder storms that players will have to maneuver out of. Also, Wushoolay will use an ability like Al'akir's lightning in phase 1 of that encounter, so people should be spread out around the room.
Wushoolay's biggest attack is lightning rod, where he will turn into a ball of lightning, crash into a random raid member, and begin a cast. Every player must be far, far away from him before the lightning rod goes off or will die. The fight was relatively simple and quick.
Wushoolay score card:
Fun rating: Enjoyed it; good to see Wushoolay again
Challenge: Good movement and careful spreading out make the fight easy.
Difficulty: Seemed undertuned, but we did have a pretty great healer; good movement, again, trivializes a number of the abilities.
Mortraxx, the Tolling Bell
After vanquishing Wushoolay, you are treated to a new challenge -- fire tikis that block your path, requiring you to run between them to cross the next path. Much like the frost traps in Icecrown Citadel, you'll need to maneuver between the flames to pass safely.
On the other side, in High Priest Thekal's old room, now stands a void beast called Mortraxx, the Tolling Bell. I am not sure if Mortraxx is supposed to be a boss or a mini-boss (there are a lot of optional mini-bosses in this dungeon), but he would occasionally command a troll to walk up the steps of the ziggurat into a void zone, killing them. Perhaps this might be a mechanic for a fight not yet implemented, but for now, he died effortlessly.
High Priestess Kilnara -- Panther Boss 2.0
You'll make your way to a familiar-looking Temple of Bethekk and fight blood drinkers and shadow hunters like before. The final encounter in the temple, however, is changed. The new priestess of Bethekk, High Priestess Kilnara, resides inside, with no gong to bang in sight.
The fight is relatively simple. Kilnara will cast an interupt-able shadow bolt and does an ability called Tears of Agony, which I didn't really catch what it did. Every time the ability went off, we moved a bit, and nothing really happened. It's probably not tuned or working just quite right yet. After you fight the priestess in troll form for awhile, she will transform into the Avatar of Bethekk and begin to all-too-familiar panther aspect of the fight. Panthers begin to stream into the arena, all attacking one specific person until their target swaps. We took this time to burn down Bethekk before the panthers overwhelmed us, which I'm pretty sure isn't the exact strategy, and I think the fight might get changed over time to be a bit more challenging.
Kilnara score card:
Fun rating: Fun! Panther boss with a few twists.
Challenge: Burn phase was rough, if it was intended as such.
Difficulty: Took a few attempts, mainly because a pack of trolls above us aggroed during the fight and killed us.
Before heading to Jin'do's old area, you fight large groups of new troll zombie creatures in huge packs. Luckily, a final cauldron is now available for you to use -- the fire cauldron. Using this cauldron will emit a massive AoE pulsing fire wave out from you, hurting you and anything you're near. Watch out for it, and only let a few group members get it, because the healing is rough. Use this cauldron to wipe out the large packs of creatures quickly.
Jin'do's old haunt is now a giant arena for the newest fight in Zul'Gurub -- Zanzil himself. Zanzil's fight is one of my new favorites, because it incorporates all of the knowledge you've learned in the dungeon so far and puts it all to the test.
Zanzil has a shadow bolt attack and an attack called Zanzil Fire that lays down a line of bad fire -- don't stand in it. There are three key abilities to watch out for, and each one requires the use of one of the cauldrons you have been using throughout the dungeon. When Zanzil calls his zombies, you'll want to burn them down with the help of the fire cauldron. When Zanzil calls his berserkers, you will freeze them and dispatch them with the help of the frost cauldron. Finally, when Zanzil blankets the room in his Graveyard Gas, you'll want to use the toxin cauldron to mitigate the damage.
Zanzil score card:
Fun rating: One of my favorite fights in new ZG. I loved it.
Challenge: The abilities Zanzil does are easily understandable, and we grasped the concept of the fight very quickly. If you know what you're doing, it's not tough.
Difficulty: He died pretty fast, so I'm guessing he will be getting some improvements and tuning, but we did have some pretty great DPS.
Jin'do the Godbreaker
Ascending the great ziggurat in Zul'Gurub, I felt a wave of nostalgia pass over me. This was it, the site where the God Hakkar stood and fell so many years ago. We've been fighting Hakkar in one way or another since the genesis of World of Warcraft
, and being back in this place, on this sacred ground, was nothing but awesome. Here, Jin'do, now Godbreaker, is wrestling Hakkar into submission, holding him by spirit chains, stripping out his power into himself. The only way to stop the invincible Jin'do now is to release the captive upon the captor.
We've freed Hakkar before as players (when are we going to stop doing that, by the way?) but never like this.
The fight begins with Jin'do casting multiple spells and, eventually, a Dead Zone, which is kind of like the rage zones in the new Deadmines or the shields during phase 2 of the Malygos fight. While in these zones, you do 10% less magic damage but take 85% less magic damage. Jin'do will repeatedly cast Shadows of Hakkar, a group-wide damage spell that will kill you pretty quickly if you are outside of a Dead Zone. The key here is to keep Jin'do out of the zone while keeping yourself inside. Tanks will have to be on their toes and watch for debuffs.
After a while, the phase will transition, and you and your group will enter the spirit realm. There, you will witness Jin'do leap behind Hakkar and begin to manipulate his power. Void crashes will begin flying from Hakkar and Jin'do, requiring players to move away before they hit the ground. Also, adds will constantly spawn during the fight, but they are defeated quickly. The aim of this stage is to break the three spirit chains holding Hakkar. Once you break the chains, Hakkar is released and consumes Jin'do. Hakkar's fate, however, is unknown.
There is still a lot to be done with the Jin'do encounter. Firstly, it seems that a final phase is missing. The fight was fun but too short, especially for all of the build-up with the instance and the backstory in Northern Stranglethorn. I'm fairly sure there is one more phase to the fight which hasn't been introduced yet that will become available as testing continues.
Jin'do score card:
Fun factor: Awesome and epic.
Challenge: A lot of precise movement and add control, especially in phase 2.
Difficulty: Not too bad when you know what's going on, but definitely not tuned or finished.
All in all, the new Zul'Gurub is an awesome remake of the original raid zone with fun new encounters, new rich story points, and so much troll love. The original ZG was the beginning of a revolution for World of Warcraft
, a player limit that went on to dictate a whole expansion of content. Now, with accessibility so high, many more people will get to experience this awesome content and finally get to delve into more troll history and locales that were once only traversed for their rare mounts. Old Zul'Gurub is reborn as a fun, frantic new instance, eliciting the same nostalgic response as the new Deadmines did. I approve!
Now, I just can't wait for Zul'Aman. ZG has already set the bar pretty high.