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WoW Archivist: Blackrock Depths, WoW's ultimate dungeon

Scott Andrews

WoW Archivist 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?

You don't trust this bar. First of all, you had to fight your way through a legion of Dark Iron dwarves and their constructs just to get here. Secondly, it's run by a shady leper gnome who has one grumpy-looking golem for a bouncer. Third, there's an awful lot of laughter, yet no one here looks amused.

You are right to be nervous. This is the Grim Guzzler. This is not a nice place.

Welcome to Blackrock Depths

For someone who began playing WoW post-vanilla, it's hard to explain just how amazing Blackrock Depths was back in early 2005. It's true that people often got lost there, but it was also a fantastic place to simply lose yourself. No area of the game has ever been as convincingly comprehensive or offered more to discover. There always seemed to be another boss, event, or area to explore, another secret to unlock. It's no secret, however, that BRD remains a favorite dungeon of many WoW Insider bloggers.

BRD wasn't just a dungeon. It was a civilization, and you were there to bring it to its knees.

The scope and breadth of the place was enormous. Besides the bar, Blackrock Depths had a bank, a shrine, a highway, a gladiatorial arena, a crypt, living quarters, multiple guard garrisons, a craftsman's plaza, a machine shop, a forge, a vast marshaling hall, a throne room full of nobles, and, ironically enough, its own dungeon (a jail).

It's hard to say exactly how many bosses the original had. Many were rare, hidden, summoned, or randomly chosen by an event. There was even a boss just outside the entrance. Counting him, my unofficial estimate is 38 different boss-like encounters. Not all of them could be faced on the same run, however, and few were nearly as complex as the dungeon bosses of today.

No convenient in-game map showed you how to navigate this labyrinthine city. In 2005's BRD, you were on your own.

Dungeons today are very different. Even as long ago as the Burning Crusade era, people were complaining that the dungeons had become too linear by comparison. The phrase "loot hallway" was a reaction to this shift in dungeon design philosophy.

BRD was arguably the best of Blizzard's original crop of dungeons, but I get the sense that few venture through it these days. Yet even though it's as old as the game itself, it continues to be relevant in WoW today.

The Lyceum in Blackrock Depths
The vanilla BRD experience

A full summary of the dungeon would nearly fill a novel, but here are the most memorable highlights.

Ring of the Law You've barely set foot in this place, and already its denizens are judging you. The Ring of the Law event featured random enemy groups or mini-bosses who would be unleashed gladiator-style on the members of your party sealed in the arena. Defeat all the enemies and you could win over the crowd above, turning them from hostile to neutral. Or if you approached the Ring from the other side, you could sate their bloodlust by killing them all.

The Ring of Law was also part of the "tier 0.5" quest line to update the original dungeon armor sets. To complete it, you had to fight a party of NPCs who had no traditional aggro table, an early predecessor to the Faction Champions encounter in Trial of the Crusader and one of the most difficult quests from vanilla.

The Shadowforge Key To progress further into BRD (without a rogue), someone in your party had to possess the Shadowforge Key. Obtaining the key was a bit of an obscure task. To even begin the quest line, you literally had to die. Only as a ghost could you see the spirit of Franclorn Forgewright hidden in the heart of Blackrock Mountain. The actual quest wasn't that hard. The tough part was finding the two relevant areas -- the Hall of Crafting and the Shrine of Thaurissian -- in the BRD maze without a map.

The Grim Guzzler With the key in hand, you could finally access this seedy bar. Visitors were tolerated as long as they were on their best behavior. A stray AoE spell, a misclick, or a misunderstanding over a mug of ale by anyone in your group would set the entire bar against you, and that was a decidely unpleasant experience. Still, it was a unique area for dungeons of its day, a place where weary heroes could catch their breath before plunging further into the depths. The original bar had a lot to do. You could buy drinks and recipes, cash in items for Thorium Brotherhood rep, obtain parts for a legendary weapon, complete a few quests -- or of course, start a bar fight.

Originally, there were two ways out. You could either bribe the demon barmaid to open the door, or you could get a specific patron drunk and have him blow it up, aggroing the bouncer, Phalanx.

The Molten Core entrance It may be hard to wrap your head around this with today's fancy-pants summoning stone technology, but after the game first launched, the only way to access the Molten Core raid was to bring all 40 of you (or whoever wasn't too lazy to just ask for a warlock summon) three-quarters of the way through BRD. The original MC raid entrance was across a bridge far beyond the Guzzler. Yes, it was a raid inside a dungeon, and I have no doubt that this is where the idea for Inception came from.

The location made sense for lore purposes: Emperor Thaurissan's ancestors summoned Ragnaros to Azeroth originally, and the Elemental Lord has held their people in thrall ever since.

The Seven Another unique event in BRD occurred at the Chamber of the Seven, where seven ghostly dwarves would attack your party one by one. Because they attacked on a timer, low DPS often meant Doom('rel). One of the seven, Gloom'rel, knew the secret to smelting Dark Iron and would teach it to miners in exchange for a few items. It could only be done prior to starting the event, however, often leading to some tense moments in /p.
WoW Archivist Blackrock Depths  WoW's ultimate dungeon FRIDAY
The Lyceum Perhaps the most memorable room in BRD, the Lyceum wasn't even technically a boss encounter or an event. It was just a giant room full of hundreds of angry dwarves on a sadistically short respawn timer.

What made it so harrowing was that in order to progress to the next room, you had to do more than just fight your way through. You had to locate roaming Flame Keepers, kill them to acquire their torches (which they weren't even guaranteed to drop), and then light two braziers. The torches had to be used within five minutes of looting them, and the first brazier you lit would go out if you didn't light the other soon after. Needless to say, it was frantic. And if you didn't know about any of this when you first walked in (none of it was obvious), you were going to be very sorry, very fast. It was a long run back to the Lyceum if you wiped.

The Imperial Seat If you survived the infinite dwarf insanity and bested Magmus, you entered the final room of BRD, where the Emperor himself awaited you. If you killed Princess Moira first, the fight was relatively straightforward. However, in order to complete BRD's final quest, Moira had to survive. This method posed somewhat more of a challenge, since the princess would toss heals on Thaurissan all day long if you let her.

If you defeated the Emperor, you could take a seat on his throne and claim the Dark Iron Empire for yourself.

The loot Unfortunately, the original loot wasn't quite as epic as the experience. The dungeon was meant for characters in the high 40s to mid 50s, so the ilevel wasn't quite as good as other places like Stratholme, Scholomance, and Upper Blackrock Spire. Many of the bosses actually dropped greens instead of rare-quality items.

A few notable items did stand out. The Naglering with its unique "arcane Thorns" effect was a favorite for tanks. For a long time the Hand of Justice was considered mandatory for melee DPS. In addition, acquiring some of BRD's fire resist gear was essential for Molten Core. You could also learn recipes for blacksmithing and engineering items here.

BRD has undergone quite a few changes over the years. Next, we'll talk about how the dungeon evolved and what's notable about it today.

Refining BRD

The Molten Core situation soon became a major headache for raiders, so Blizzard finally gave MC its own entrance in patch 1.3. (Of course, to enter that way you still had to do this weird thing that we tired old vets used to call "attunement" by going to the original entrance.) In the same patch, Blizzard capped the number of players who could enter BRD at 10.

Patch 1.10 would finally bring that number down to our accustomed five. Blizzard agreed that BRD's loot just wasn't up to par, and the developers overhauled its loot table in the same patch, along with that of several other high-level dungeons.

After that, BRD remained largely the same until, strangely enough, late in The Burning Crusade. Patch 2.4.3 brought some renovations to the Guzzler. Blizzard added an arena gear vendor, a Dark Iron brewer, and performances by Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain. There wasn't much point to spiffying up the place if no one went there, however, so Blizzard added the new Brewfest boss, Coren Direbrew, in the same patch.

The Cataclysm affected every part of Azeroth, including BRD, and Blizzard created several new quests for the dungeon (while removing others) in patch 4.0.3a. The patch also added teleporters for those who were less enamored with its sprawl.

A personal mole machine from Direbrew's Remote
BRD today

In Cataclysm, there haven't been too many reasons besides nostalgia to explore the vastness of Blackrock Depths. Better loot can be had from Outland's early dungeons for much less effort.

However, BRD still has a few things going for it. For one, it has some excellent gear for transmogging. Also, it still has a few economically viable recipes, including the Fiery enchant, ever popular for twinking alts, and one of the Field Repair Bots necessary to make Jeeves. Direbrew's loot table continues to be updated, but the best item from him is obviously the mole machine. It just begs people to click it, and the result is always hilarious when people don't know what it does. (Pro tip: Use it during the Brewfest invasion event for extra mayhem.)

Perhaps it's a naive hope in this era of WoW's history, but some day I would love to see a dungeon similar to BRD added to the game. Fill it with amazing lore and roleplaying areas. Make it off-limits to the Dungeon Finder. Force people to socialize for this content, to run it with patient friends or not at all -- because it's not going to be a "run." It's going to be an adventure.

After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.

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