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Blizzard likes to talk about their "iterative" process, meaning they make many small improvements over time to produce the best possible result. In the case of the lackluster patch 2.2, players were disappointed that more was not done. With the game's subscriptions still skyrocketing, Blizzard felt pressure to deliver a major dose of new content and improvements.
In November 2007, Blizzard answered the bell and unleashed an iteration that reshaped the game from top to bottom. Players of every level experienced sweeping changes to their play experience -- many of which are so integral now that it's hard to believe we played without them for so long. If you ask players about patch 2.3, they'll call it the "ZA patch." Zul'Aman was a great raid, but 2.3 offered so much more than that.
Old World 2.0
When The Burning Crusade launched, Azeroth no longer encompassed the entire World of Warcraft. Players referred to the two classic continents as the "old world." With the level of polish that the expansion brought to the game, especially its dungeons, the old world had begun to look a bit outdated by comparison.
Dustwallow Marsh, in particular, had always been a bit of a disappointment. It had a few quests, but it was mostly just the zone that housed Onyxia's Lair. In 2.3, Blizzard seeded the zone with brand new quest content and fleshed out Dustwallow's story.
After the expansion, Azeroth had become a tougher place to level, with so many elites in the world and fewer players to tackle them. The leveling process from 1-60 still took quite a long time back then. Players who were impatient to reach Outland became frustrated with the last few levels before they could cross to the other side of the Dark Portal that taunted them every time they booted up the login screen.
To solve these issues, Blizzard implement a major overhaul of the classic zones and dungeons. Many elites lost their status and became normal chumps. Many quests that required a group could now be solo'ed. This was an especially welcome nerf to the mobs around dungeon entrances. In vanilla WoW, you needed a group just to get to the portal for many dungeons because of all the elite mobs around the entrance. Sunken Temple was perhaps the worst offender here. The maze of passageways full of elite mobs meant that your group had to fight their way out and then back in whenever you had to replace someone.
Classic dungeons were adjusted to have a narrower range of levels. Some dungeons spanned up to 15 levels, meaning you could run it at the lower end, but you could only progress so far before you'd have to come back after leveling. The tighter range meant you could always clear to the end, at least in theory.
The loot tables for the dungeons also received a big overhaul. It's hard to imagine it now, but many bosses in vanilla dropped a green (uncommon) item rather than a blue (rare). Even some of the bosses in "end game" dungeons such as Blackrock Depths/Spire, Stratholme, and Scholomance only dropped greens. Blizzard changed the tables so all bosses would drop rare items.
Finally, Blizzard reduced the amount of experience to level from 11 to 60, so that everyone could get to Outland faster. This was the game's first major experience reduction to account for an expansion's extra levels.
Sparkles, bubbles, and banks
The patch also made huge improvement to the game's interface. We take for granted that player names are colored according to their class, daily exclamation points are blue, and quests and flight paths show up on our minimap, but this is the patch that added all of those elements to the game.
Those handy sparkles on quest objects? Nothing sparkled until 2.3. You had to really search for them. Quest objects that gave quests or let us turn them in also didn't have the ! and ? symbols on them. This made quest lines like the Linken one from vanilla much more hidden than they are today. What was once an unremarkable and difficult to locate pile of talbuk turds now became a majestically sparkling and extremely visible pile of talbuk turds.
The tracking bubble on the minimap is another 2.3 addition. Previous to this, hunters had to use a hotbar button for each tracking type they wanted to access quickly. Tracking fish pools was also added in this patch.
NPC mouseovers that show hearthstones for innkeepers and so on were another handy addition. NPCs got less chatty. For example, flight masters now took you directly to the path selection map rather than striking up a conversation first that had to be clicked through. The patch also introduced reputation-based discounts from NPC vendors.
The auction house received an overhaul that streamlined categories and made 48 hour auctions possible, with 12 hours as the shortest auction. The previous limit was 24 hours, and the shortest was 8. Azeroth's envelopes also grew more robust and could now mail up to 12 items at a time.
The ability to see whose loot is on a corpse put an end to the cries of "Loot the hounds!" forever. (Now we could yell at specific individuals.)
Most controversial of all the UI changes was the ability to inspect players' talent selections. What was once private could now be seen by anyone of your own faction. According to where you stood on cookie cutter builds, this change gave "elitist jerk" players one more way to make a player feel bad about themselves or let a veteran "filter out the noobs."
Finally, patch 2.3 added guild banks after many, many requests. Prior to the patch, guild officers used bank toons to store the guild's hoard of items and gold -- and it was much easier for guilds to lose everything when an officer suddenly gquit or stopped playing.
These incremental but (mostly) very welcome improvements are great examples of how Blizzard iterates.
Expertise and healer help
Blizzard also made big changes to itemization and scaling. This patch ushered in expertise as a stat, replacing "+ weapon skill." At the time, +weapon skill was a highly desirable stat for just about every melee spec. However, the stat made for frustrating moments because it was 100% tied to your equipped weapon(s). +10 dagger skill did nothing for you when you equipped that shiny new sword that just dropped. Expertise solved that problem. All racial bonuses that related to weapon skill, like humans' Mace and Sword Skill racials, had to change too. They all became 1% critical strike bonuses.
Another major change to items came in the form of spell damage on healing items. Prior to this patch, a player in healing gear had gear with mostly +healing bonuses, which were much larger than +spell power bonuses. That also meant healer spells hit like soggy pasta in their raid gear, which made soloing a chore -- especially since dual specs weren't yet implemented. In 2.3, Blizzard added small amounts of +spell damage to healing gear to help healers who wanted to solo quests. (Later, the two stats would be integrated into a single spell power stat.)
Remarkably, many healing and shield spells prior to 2.3 scaled only with spell rank and not your character's stats. This included druids' Tranquility, priests' Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Healing, Circle of Healing, and Holy Nova, and warlocks' Shadow Ward. All of these spells gained stat scaling in this patch.
The godsend of Zul'Aman
The trailer for patch 2.3 featured the lore of the Amani trolls and some chilling voice work for Zul'jin. Zul'jin ends the trailer with the memorable line, "We gonna bury you here."
As well designed as it was, Zul'Aman, like Zul'Gurub before it, had a strange place in progression when it went live. As a 10-man raid, ZA did not provide items that competed with its 25-man contemporaries. Thus, players who had been running the Black Temple and Hyjal needed very little from it, even though it was two patches more recent. For them, Zul'Aman was for gearing up alts and recruits, earning a few extra Badges of Justice, and proving their skills by riding around on a big armored bear.
For other guilds, ZA was a godsend. Many guilds had never made the difficult transition from 10 to 25-man raids. They had been raiding Karazhan exclusively since the launch of the expansion almost a year prior. The lack of anything else to raid had eaten some of these guilds alive, as players jumped ship for other communities to see all the 25-man content. ZA stalled that attrition.
Mercifully, this new raid had no attunement requirements. Also like Zul'Gurub, it had a three-day lockout.
As a follow-up to vanilla's infamous 45-minute Strat quest, Zul'Aman included a timed run. Players who killed its first four bosses within the time limit received extra loot and one Amani War Bear. Instead of an overall time limit, however, killing the first two bosses increased the time you had available. That meant you could be close to running out of time and then win a last-second reprieve when you killed a boss. The design made for a tense and frantic pace. Only those groups with superior DPS, sustainable healing, and tanks who could navigate the most efficient path through the instance rescued all the hostages in time.
Due to their inclusion in the timed run, the first four bosses were not as complex as many other raid encounters. To make up for that, the final two bosses had a boatload of mechanics. Hex Lord Malacrass would steal spells from whatever classes were present, including massive self-heals like Holy Light and nasty AOEs like Rain of Fire. Zul'jin was a five phase fight. He shifted into four different shapes with new abilities and wiped threat every time he did so. Some of the phases were true gamechangers, like his Eagle form that dealt damage to a player for every spell they cast or his Lynx form that could carve up a nontank if you didn't use cooldowns to keep them alive during a Rush.
Sadly, Zul'Aman the raid no longer exists. The zone became a five-man dungeon in patch 4.1, with similar bosses and a timed run. Zul'jin stayed dead, though. His defeat was more than a setback.
And all this other stuff
If feels like we've covered so much content already, but patch 2.3 offered plenty more.
The daily quest concept was in its infancy during The Burning Crusade, and 2.3 gave us our second round of dailies. The patch introduced the first ever profession dailies. A goblin called The Rokk offered daily cooking quests out of Shattrath that rewarded players with cooking materials and a chance for new recipes. Random daily dungeon quests for both normal and Heroic versions became available for the first time, as did a daily battleground quest. Since this patch took place during the pre-dungeon finder era, the random quests gave players an incentive to run all the dungeons, instead of just the easiest or most efficient.
This was also the patch that reduced the requirement for Heroic keys from revered reputation to honored, so players could run Heroic dungeons after less of a grind. Since unlocking Heroic dungeons was an early milestone on the long road to attunement, most players celebrated this change. (Those who had already done the grinds were, naturally, somewhat bitter.)
Like most patches, 2.3 included many, many class changes, including tons of spell and talent tweaks. Of all the class changes, four were the most significant:
- Mage tables: Mages no longer had to conjure and then trade drinks to other players. Now they could just cast Ritual of Refreshment and create a table for players to loot. Mages everywhere rejoiced.
- Rogues also benefited from this patch. It changed the duration of their poisons from 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Hunters not only enjoyed the tracking bubble, but also the pet AI change that taught them to attack an enemy from behind. Raid bosses often had nasty frontal cleaves that would shred pets. To keep their pets alive, hunters had to position pets as well as they could. The patch removed that hassle. Warlock pets were affected as well, but few warlock pets attacked from melee range in those days.
- All shamans learned to train two handed axes and maces. Previously, the ability to wield these weapon was an enhancement talent (and originally, changing specs meant resetting those weapon skills, too).
Professions also received some love in this patch. Most notably, Blizzard added the very first profession-based mount. Engineers could now build a Flying Machine and its deluxe model, the Turbo-Charged Flying Machine, complete with dashboard hula girl.
For Blizzard, the greatness of patch 2.3 paid off in spades. Two months after its release, WoW achieved an astonishing 10 million subscribers worldwide.
Check out the full patch notes on the next (several) pages!
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