We'll talk a little about Dire Maul today, but next week will be the full tour of the place because its addition to World of Warcraft changed the landscape of the game in ways we seriously underestimated. Blizzard worked hard to attempt many things with Dire Maul that we've never seen since.
In Wrath of the Lich King and now Cataclysm, the way we look at the gear added in new tiers of 5-man dungeons and raids is to look at the ilevel of the item or simply say, "All right, this new chest piece has 11 more strength. That's pretty cool." Back when Dire Maul was implemented, the reaction was far more powerful -- and for good reason. Green text on items was almost unheard of back in vanilla WoW unless you were one of the lucky few killing bosses at the endgame in early 2004, late 2005. Items early on had no added crit, no haste, and unless you were a warrior building your tier set, you weren't going to find any items that added +defense (which, again, was removed in the great stats cull of 2010.)
This green text on items was the absolute pinnacle of gearing at the time ... and Dire Maul made it accessible. An item out of Stratholme may have had stamina, agility and strength, and that's pretty cool -- but an item out of Dire Maul may have had agility, strength and critical strike. Healing gear suddenly had straight mana regen on it. That was huge. It completely changed how players approached gearing and theorycrafting. These stats that we took for granted for the last four years throughout The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King weren't always there; they flooded in all at once with Dire Maul.
Dire Maul also attempted a twist on the winged dungeon format. Blackrock Depths had been unofficially split up into upper and lower levels of the dungeon but was laid out like a full city. Scarlet Monastery was a winged dungeon, with every wing completely separated. Dire Maul was split into Dire Maul: North, Dire Maul: West, and Dire Maul: East. Each wing was thematically different with an instance portal allowing you to access them directly, but the three instances were also linked. If you wanted to do so, you could seamlessly move from one wing of the instance to the next, making it feel like a real, coherent place. The dungeon was also home to the Dire Maul library, which acted somewhat like a hub connecting the three wings of the dungeon.
This format allowed Dire Maul to become an integral part of World of Warcraft's endgame at the time. It didn't matter what stage of progression you were in -- the game supplied some reason to return to Dire Maul. You may have been going back there for gear, maybe for quests, maybe for enchantments for your gear, or maybe you were just trying to make money -- Dire Maul was rich, complex, and compelling. That depth and complexity simply doesn't exist in World of Warcraft dungeons anymore.
Patch 1.3 was the first content patch in which Blizzard began to implement popular addons into the base UI. Back in the day, the major UI package was Cosmos. Its primary draw was the simple ability to display more than one action bar at a time. In the default UI, all you could display at once was the single row of buttons -- you could rotate through various action bars at will, but you could only view one at a time. Cosmos enabled you to display however many you'd like, up to the maximum number of bars that the game stores. It was hard to find a single player in late 2004 or early 2005 who didn't use an addon to display more action bars, so it was an obvious choice as one of the first default UI modifications.
Patch 1.3 also implemented the ability to display quest objectives on the right-hand side of your screen, so you didn't need to constantly open your quest log and check what you were supposed to be doing. This addition was inspired by another of the most popular addons of the time -- addons such as MonkeyQuest that provided exactly that functionality. The ability to remind yourself what you were working on and check your progress at a glance was something that absolutely did not exist when the game launched. It was a purely player-created initiative.
Players also labeled the addition of such a feature as "dumbing down the game." Accusations of dumbing things down are as old as time itself. The invention of the wheel just dumbed down moving large objects! Man learning to wield fire dumbed down eating and not freezing to death!
If you want to amuse yourself, head on over to the MonkeyQuest page on Curse; the oldest comment on that addon is from Feb. 1, 2005. As an off-topic note, that also happens to be the day I turned 18. Hello, ladies.
Dungeon population limits
Another thing to note about Dire Maul is that it's the first 5-man dungeon to actually be limited to five players. Places like Stratholme and Scholomance were intended as 5-man dungeons, but nobody actually did them in groups that small. In fact, back in 2005, I had a regular 5-man group of guildmates, and we did everything together. Our first time clearing Stratholme was with just the five of us. We posted screenshots on various forums, and people were extremely impressed. We received whispers in game asking us how we pulled it off, and we felt amazing for it.
It wasn't that we were the best players ever -- it was just that very few people did these dungeons with five players. You could initially take 10, 15, however many players you wanted to take, so why wouldn't you? Since players became accustomed to killing those bosses with 15 people, taking them down with five sounded impossible. Killing Baron Rivendare with five people sounded as ridiculous as killing Ragnaros with 10 ... oh, wait.
(I'm kidding, I promise.)
In patch 1.3, Blizzard started to crack down on that. The developers didn't limit 5-man dungeons to five players yet, but they started the transition. They lowered the number of players you could take to 10, weaning people off of the dungeon zerg, and then used Dire Maul to get players used to running these things with only a 5-man group.
Next week, we'll be looking at Dire Maul in depth, unraveling its many hooks, quests, and secrets -- don't miss it!
The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss the lost legendary, the opening of Ahn'Qiraj, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.