Last week I said we'd be visiting Dire Maul in-depth this week, and we're going to do exactly that. Dire Maul was added in World of Warcraft patch 1.3 all the way back in March 2005. As I pointed out last week, Dire Maul attempted a great number of things that Blizzard has never tried to do since. It was also one of the few instances that was given a lasting relevance throughout an entire expansion phase of the game's life -- from the day it was implemented in patch 1.3 to the final day prior to the launch of The Burning Crusade, players had a reason to venture into the three wings of Dire Maul that wasn't simply grinding for currency.
Dire Maul was one of the last bastions of adventure and discovery in our dungeons. That isn't to say all instances afterwards were bad, that's not true at all, but never again did we have a 5-man dungeon that you were free to explore and discover the secrets hidden away in its dark corners. It's a style of dungeon we haven't seen since, and with the prominence of the dungeon finder in World of Warcraft these days, it's one we're unlikely to see ever again.
Green was always the new purple
The addition of Dire Maul completely revolutionized the game for casual players, for which endgame was 5-man dungeons. It was the eve of green text on gear. Gone were the days where the only stats on your pre-raid gear were white stats -- strength, agility, intellect. Casual players suddenly had access to critical strike, dodge, defense (removed in Cataclysm) and MP5 (also removed in Cataclysm.)
There were no ratings in those days, either. We're not talking critical strike rating. We're talking pure, direct +2% critical strike, or +1% chance to dodge. Seeing brand new stats you've never been able to have on your gear before was something far more exciting than the basic ilevel increases you see in the game today. It's a feeling that Blizzard won't be able to replicate -- it's a magic only felt once.
I would love to show you a screenshot of items with percentages on them instead of ratings, but I don't have one. People weren't very happy I included a screenshot with ratings on it last week since it was from Wrath and not vanilla! Inauthentic and all that.
The overall floorplans of Dire Maul is something entirely unique. We've seen a few different configurations of winged dungeons over the years. Scarlet Monastery is four dungeons thematically linked, but wholly separate as far as instances goes. You go into the Library, then you exit the Library to enter the Graveyard, Armory and Cathedral. That was the template for how instances were handled in Burning Crusade and beyond -- linked by theme, but completely split off into their own dungeons. We also had the method used in the Icecrown Citadel 5-mans. They were linked thematically, and there were instance portals at the end of each of them that would lead you directly into the next dungeon in sequence. Still, each dungeon was its own independent instance, mechanically. You zoned out of one and into the other.
Dire Maul was one massive instance linked via side passageways, with three instance portals that took you to three different points within the city. There were three dungeons within the city that was Dire Maul and we nicknamed them North, West and East. All three of them really took place within one zone. If you decided to run Dire Maul West, you could take a side passage and end up in Dire Maul North without passing through any additional instance portals. From there you could get to Dire Maul East -- again, no instance portal. They were connected via the Dire Maul Library, a hub that you would come to know quite dearly as a vanilla WoW player.
This method of connecting the instances created the feeling of an old, massive city like Blackrock Depths did, except it avoided the issue of being too big by breaking the instance up into clearly marked segments. If you wanted to go exploring, you could. If your group wanted to spend many hours purging the entirety of Dire Maul, you could. You could completely submerge yourself in this place. Blizzard has never created a place like that again.
Dire Maul: North was even more unique. It offered a completely alternate way of running that wing of the instance: kill as few bosses as possible, get better loot. Dire Maul: North was absolutely infested with ogres. Ogres, as we've seen many times throughout WoW's history, respect shows of strength. If you're the strongest, you are their leader.
King Gordok was the final boss of Dire Maul: North and when you killed him you became king in his place. When you take your throne, the king's living followers would pay tribute to you -- giving you extra loot in a chest. If you killed all of the bosses in the instance, you would get some food and some water and that was it. If you let the other bosses live, you would get blue quality gear in the chest. Very good blue gear. Of course, it wasn't just a matter of going around the bosses.
- Guard Fengus is the first boss of Dire Maul: North. He patrols the courtyard at the entrance of the dungeon, guarding the key required to advance through the locked gates. He required the party to be aware of his location at all times while he wandered the courtyard, so he wouldn't just walk up behind you and aggro on your party. While everybody is avoiding him, you needed a rogue or a druid to stealth their way to Fengus's chest and loot the key for the gates from it. You could also try to use a hunter with Feign Death, but that was a bit dicier. Unlock the door, rush into the halls, and you've successfully avoided killing Fengus.
- Guard Slip'kik is more difficult. He requires some advance preparation. He patrols through a narrow hallway, so you can't go around him. However ... there is a broken frost trap tossed in his path. Just a pile of garbage, he has probably never given it a second look in his life. You need to fix it. To fix it you require a Thorium Widget crafted by an engineer and a Frost Oil crafted by an alchemist. Use these two things to repair the trap, run away, hide, wait awhile ... and come back to an ogre locked in an ice block. Afterwards, you speak to a nearby goblin being held prisoner, who will teach you how to craft an ogre suit if you bring him an ogre tannin from upstairs. Do so!
- Captain Kromcrush is the next boss. You need a tailor-made ogre suit to disguise yourself for this one. Choose a party member, make them dress up with the suit, and go talk to Kromcrush. You tell him that one of his buddies insulted him and he storms off in a rage. Kromcrush down!
- Cho'Rush the Observer is the final boss you need to skip. Here's the kicker: you fight him at the same time as King Gordok. You need to keep him alive, but he's kind of a jerk -- crowd controlling your party and slinging damage spells of his own. You just need to control him and keep him alive throughout the fight. When you kill King Gordok, Cho'Rush will stop fighting and name you King of the Gordok. Congratulations on your extra loot.
You didn't have to spare all four, of course. If you only managed to spare two or three of them, you would still get bonus loot. Just not as much bonus loot. You could also backtrack through the instance and talk to the bosses you spared. They'll adress you as the king you are (even if you're the queen) and give you various stat buffs you can use for a couple hours afterward. Oh, and there's another boss you can spare that doesn't help the tribute at all. You can just go around the drunkard Stomper Kreeg. If you spare him, you can buy booze from him. It was the only way to get Kreeg's Stout Beatdown, a booze that healers used in raids to maximize mana regen. My dear ol' main tank always got a little nervous when my priest got shitfaced before a Ragnaros pull.
Tribute runs were incredible fun back in the day. It rewarded you for advance preparation, and it mixed up the instance so you weren't always doing the exact same thing every time you went there. It extended the longevity of the dungeon in a way that hard modes nowadays don't. You weren't just doing the same thing but harder. You were doing the same thing but different.
Patch 4.1 removed most of the materials required for a Tribute Run since nobody remains in the 50s-60s long enough to justify that sort of preparation for Dire Maul. If you've never done a Tribute Run before in all of its glory, you'll never get the chance, unfortunately.
Baubles and trinkets
Another gear oddity back in vanilla WoW is that trinkets were extremely rare. I don't mean that they had poor drop rates or that the ones good for your class were on a boss you don't enjoy, like you might run into today. I mean that you were lucky if you had any trinkets whatsoever, or if you did have trinkets, you were even luckier if they provided some actual benefit. Trinkets were a nonstandard piece of gear in vanilla WoW, and you didn't get one that boosted your stats until Blackrock Depths at the earliest, Upper Blackrock Spire at the latest. The Hand of Justice from Blackrock Depths was one of the best melee trinkets in the entire game for almost its entire lifespan. Trinkets were rough.
Dire Maul made trinkets a little more accessible, and once again did it in a relatively unique way. There were quite a few trinket drops, but also class-specific trinkets gotten in another way. You got these trinkets via class quests, acquired via class books. Each class got a Royal Seal of Eldre'Thalas. To get your Seal, you needed to find your class book -- the paladin book, for example, was called The Light and How to Swing It and penned by Uther Lightbringer himself. That title lives on as the name of WoW Insider's paladin class column, as I'm sure you've all noticed. The rogue book was written by Garona, and they all had neat little lore like that.
The paladin Royal Seal was some armor, some healing spell power (almost all paladins healed back then (and the healing power is intellect as of Cataclysm)), and some fire resistance. Was it the best trinket? No. Was it a trinket? Yes! That was enough back then. The books dropped randomly off of all Dire Maul bosses and could also be looted (randomly!) from Dusty Tome objects that spawned at certain points in each wing of Dire Maul. These books were turned in at the Dire Maul library, of course. The Royal Seal was your reward for returning books the library lost.
One of the fun things about these massive city-like dungeons is that they were rogue playgrounds. Every rogue I knew back in vanilla WoW were absolutely amazing at what they did, because they went into places like Blackrock Depths and Dire Maul to hone their skills. It taught them precision they didn't learn out in the overworld.
How much could they do on their own? Were they good enough at stealth and using their various class tools to turn profit? Farming up these books from Dusty Tomes was one of those rogue pasttimes. Rogues were honest-to-god treasure hunters, pillaging Dire Maul for riches. That doesn't happen anymore, either.
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