For a long time in classic WoW, non-raiders felt neglected. Dungeons were the only endgame PvE option for non-raiders. Back then, dungeons didn't have a five-player limit. They could be "raided," even though they weren't considered raids. Blizzard added new raiding content on a regular basis, but the developers didn't release new dungeons after adding Dire Maul in patch 1.3, four months after the game's release. Until the launch of The Burning Crusade in early 2007, non-raiders ran the same dungeons for almost two years.
Amidst a storm of complaints, Blizzard said it wanted to offer additional content for non-raiders. In patch 1.10, Blizzard delivered a new endgame quest line using existing dungeons. Composed of 29 steps in all, this was one of the game's most elaborate -- and most punishing -- quest lines ever. Blizzard called it the "high-level armor set" quest line. Players called it Tier 0.5. To create it, Blizzard had to reimagine what WoW's dungeons should be.
This quest line was removed, like many others, when Deathwing brought the Cataclysm. Let's walk through what once was and explore how it gave rise to the modern dungeons we tackle today.
The beginning of this quest line began innocently enough. Mysterious quest givers mentioned unspecified problems and offered you powerful items in return for your aid. Deliana in Ironforge was the Alliance quest giver. The Horde quest line began with Mokvar. If that name sounds familiar, it should. He became Orgrimmar's treasurer, and we've been fighting him every week in the Siege version of the city.
They first sent you on a rather typical task. Alliance players ventured to Winterspring to collect blood samples from frostsabers and bears. Horde players had to retrieve venom samples from spiders and scorpions in Silithus. When you forked over the samples, your Dungeon Set 1 bracers, and 20 gold, you received an upgraded version of the bracers.
Oh, didn't I mention that you needed every single dungeon set piece for your class in order to complete the quest line? Many players didn't realize this either when they first set out.
Getting the bracers, belt, and gloves was easy. They were BOE, so you could buy them on the Auction House. At this point in classic WoW, they weren't horribly expensive, since most people already had them.
The other pieces, however, were random BOP drops. As such things go, not everyone was able to complete his set, no matter how many times he ran a dungeon. Many players had no choice but to give up on the quest line completely when they hit an item they didn't have yet. If it never dropped for them, or they kept losing the roll, they could never proceed with the quest line.
Mux ado about magma
The next pieces to upgrade were your belt and gloves. You brought the blood/venom samples to Mux Manascrambler in Gadgetzan. Mux was convinced that speaking to the ghost of Anthion Harmon was the only way to help your armor upgrade sponsor. To do that, he needed to build a "ghost revealer" machine. What else?
He asked you to bring him a list of items: 25 Volcanic Ash, 10 Stonescale Oil, 4 Greater Eternal Essence, and a single Delicate Arcanite Converter. After about an hour of the patch going live, the auction house supply of all these items was depleted and you had to pay a fortune to buy up those remaining. The converter was already rather pricey, since transmuting arcanite could be done only once a day.
Volcanic Ash was a quest item that could be harvested -- on the other side of the planet, in the Burning Steppes. In the early days of the patch, competition to loot the ash was fierce. Players with epic mounts had a huge advantage over those who didn't.
Mux used the items to create an Ectoplasmic Distiller. This device harvested three types of ectoplasm from three different types of ghosts in three different zones at the three farthest-flung ends of Azeroth: Winterspring, Silithus, and Eastern Plaguelands.
That accomplished, Mux sent you back to Burning Steppes because he is either inconsiderate or not really all about thinking ahead. There you had to take on Magma Lord Bokk (pictured above) and retrieve his Magma Core to power Mux's device. Bokk and his minions could be solo'ed, though he wasn't a pushover in his earliest version. He hit hard and had both a fear and a knockback.
Mux didn't have everything he needed yet. He sent you to Winterspring -- now your third trip if you were Alliance -- to buy a Fel Elemental Rod from an imp in Darkwhisper Gorge. "I'm kicking myself in the head right now," he said, "for not having bought it [earlier]." Players wanted to kick him in the head at this point for all the hours of travel so far.
But off you went, and it seemed like a simple task until you arrived and discovered that elite demons swarmed the area around the imp's cave. You had three options: sneak very carefully, bring a few friends with you, or run past everything and complete your transaction in a hurry. (Back then I opted for the latter, which was quite an adrenaline rush.) The rod cost 40 gold.
With all the pieces now obtained, Mux created the Extra-Dimensional Ghost Revealer and bade you return to your faction's original quest giver. You cashed in your belt and gloves for upgraded versions. The gloves were epic. For many players, this was the first epic item they had ever equipped.
"Just remember that I'm holding on to the best pieces until your work is finished," Deliana told you. You had five more pieces to upgrade, but from here on out, the quests were about to ramp up in difficulty. To some, that ramp was more like a vertical, impassable wall.
Next you ventured to Stratholme's entrance, where rumor had it Anthion was slain. You contacted him using the Revealer. Before he offered you aid, however, he had a request. Baron Rivendare had taken his wife, a member of the Argent Dawn, as a prisoner. He asked you to rescue her from Stratholme.
What followed is one of the most difficult quests ever implemented in WoW, the infamous 45-minute Strat run. Because of this quest, and later ones in the chain, Blizzard changed the way WoW's dungeons worked. As of patch 1.10, you could no longer bring more than the recommended number of players. Dungeons were all capped at five, except for UBRS, which was changed to cap out at 10.
It's hard to understate how monumental this change was for the game. Most players opted to bring as many people as possible on dungeon runs. More players meant less loot for any one person, sure. But this was balanced by how quickly you could zerg through a five-player dungeon with 15 players. It also meant someone was more likely to have a use for anything that dropped.
Over the course of WoW's first year, the zerg method was what most players were used to. (Dire Maul, always capped at five, was the lone exception.) Blizzard gradually reduced the number, from 40 at launch to 15 to 10. Now, with a five-player cap, dungeons required strategies like crowd control and careful pulling to avoid patrols. You had to respect a boss's abilities. You had to communicate. In these ways, dungeons became more like the raids of the era.
Some players railed against this change. They didn't like that they would have to exclude some of their friends during dungeon runs. Looking back, you can see how necessary it was for the health of the game. Dungeons could never present a challenge as long as you could stampede through them. On the other hand, if you tuned them for 15 or 10 players, then you no longer had any small group content.
The greater challenge came with greater rewards. With a firm cap in place, Blizzard could take dungeon loot more seriously. Believe it or not, many dungeon bosses dropped only green uncommon items. Patch 1.4 saw a number of upgrades to loot. In patch 1.10, Blizzard revamped dungeon loot tables from top to bottom. All bosses now dropped rares. Blizzard also buffed the drop rate on epic items in dungeons, though they remained quite low.
The infamous Strat 45
Archivist has already covered the 45-minute Strat quest in detail, so I won't rehash it here. Suffice it to say, without a dedicated group who had strong gear and skills, your progress on this quest line stopped here.
Like the new dungeon cap, the quest caused a fair amount of controversy. Non-raiders saw it as just more evidence that Blizzard cared about only "hardcore raiders," since many were convinced that it took raid gear to complete the run in time.
It didn't, but you had to be precise, methodical, and relentless in your pulls. You couldn't make mistakes. Your needed solid DPS and healers who could keep healing with minimal time to drink. It helped, also, to use every possible consumable at your disposal, including stacking elixirs and making liberal use of the BOP Stratholme Holy Water. In other words, you had to approach the run with a "hardcore" attitude. Many players didn't, or couldn't, and Rivendare executed Anthion's beloved Ysida over and over again.
If you succeeded in her rescue, she gave you a bagful of potions, presumably as an apologetic replacement for the dozens you used in your attempts. The Baron also dropped special loot if you engaged him before the timer ran out.
A provocative banner
After returning Ysida's Locket to him, Anthion spoke of an item called Valthalak's medallion that could help your armor upgrade sponsor. Unfortunately for you, the medallion had been shattered into three pieces. Anthion told you that a gladiator named Theldren had the first piece, but Theldren wouldn't fight you willingly.
To get Theldren to fight, Anthion had another shopping list for you: 20 Enchanted Leather, 4 Cured Rugged Hide, 3 Dark Iron Bar, and 3 Mooncloth. All of these were expensive crafted items made with hard-to-obtain raw materials or on a cooldown or craftable only at a specific location or all three.
Anthion used the materials to create an Incomplete Banner of Provocation. He asked you to bring the banner to his old friend Falrin in Dire Maul, who could cast an enchantment on the banner. Falrin didn't believe that you had spoken to the deceased Anthion, but he agreed to help you anyway in exchange for a favor: He wanted revenge on the ogre clans for killing his brother.
Ogre Warbeads could be obtained only from ogres in Dire Maul and Blackrock Spire. At level 60, you had to run these dungeons with full parties to grind the 25 beads required. The drop rate was low, and it took multiple runs. When you brought him the beads, Falrin revealed his crafty side. He made necklaces from them and offered you a choice of two.
Falrin then agreed to cast the enchantment, but he (like everyone else in the quest line) needed materials. The 8 Large Brilliant Shards were easily obtained from an enchanter. Not so for the other items. The 4 Dark Runes dropped only in Scholomance. Raiders used them as consumables, and they did not drop often enough to meet demand. On most realms, you'd pay a lot of money for a few runes. Grinding them from repeated Scholo runs was the only way to get them for most players. The Jeering Specter's Essence dropped from elite specters in Dire Maul.
Falrin accepted the mats and told you, "After I'm done, no force in the world will be able to stop your victim from accepting your challenge."
You brought the freshly enchanted banner to Anthion. He sent you to the Blackrock Depths arena to use the Banner of Provocation on Theldren and obtain the first medallion piece. What followed was a unique encounter in classic WoW. The fight created sheer chaos, and it inspired several of the most controversial encounters in the game's history.
But we'll have to wait for that since we're out of space. The next Archivist column will take you into the arena to face Theldren and continue the Tier 0.5 quest line.
WoW Archivist is a column by WoW Insider's Scott Andrews; it runs on Massively by permission. Every other weekend, Scott explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?