Pandaria and the Trial of Taran Zhu

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are notworkers of miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?

– 1 Corinthians 12

I’m surprised at how much further Blizzard has taken World of WarCraft in its latest expansion: Mists of Pandaria. In fact, I’d say they’ve really stepped up their game by integrating all of their disparate game elements into one holistic experience.

Let’s be honest: Cataclysm was a disappointment for a number of reasons. For one, there just wasn’t much to do if you weren’t raiding. I like raiding; so does everyone else. Still, increasing the difficulty on raids probably wasn’t the greatest idea. I know, I always call for increased difficulty in games, but coordinating ten different people to do something incredibly difficult like, say, Nefarian at the end of Blackwing Descent? Not going to happen with the majority of players. In fact, Cataclysm lost at least a million or more subscribers from Cataclysm in the first quarter of 2011 – not a great sign. Contrast this to Wrath of the Lich King’s end, which gave Blizzard its highest numbers ever: 11.4 million active subscription down to somewhere in the 9 million range at the middle of 2012.

Now that we have Raid Finder (anyone can raid!) and daily quests (get raid gear through questing!) and reputations through quest areas (you should actually quest even when you reach level cap), they’ve found a way to make everyone DO everything. Some minigames remain at the tangent (pet battles, for example), but they exist solely for the hardcore crowd.

What has most improved, in my mind, is the 5-man instances. Before, they were simple cakewalks – run in, kill stuff, collect your loot, rinse and repeat. Now, however, 5-mans actually prepare you for raid content! Unbelievable, I know – it only took eight years, but we finally have some interesting 5-man bosses. They have multiple attack phases, require actual strategies, and nearly always have teamwork in mind. In fact, some are literally impossible if anyone becomes myopic in their particular role. Multi-tasking remains essential.

Thus, Taran Zhu – the pick-up group (PuG) killer:

For God’s sake, does this boss really kill any uncoordinate group with swiftness. My first attempts on this boss led to complete failure. There’s a few specific reasons. First, Taran Zhu continually stacks a buff on everyone in the party called Hatred. Hatred increases your damage/healing dealt, but also reduces your hit chance (hence, no damage for tanks or melee classes). When your Hatred meter reaches full capacity, your healing reduces by 25% and your hit chance goes down by 90%. The only way to get rid of said debuff is to Meditate, which requires you to sit still for about five seconds. Even the tank, who the boss continually attacks, will have to do this; for me, tanking fiend, this requires some good thought as to WHEN I need to Meditate. Taran Zhu also casts an attack call Rising Hatred, which raises everyone’s Hatred incredibly quickly AND does lots of damage to everyone – at least this one you can interrupt/

Taran Zhu does not make this easy. In addition to this, he uses an attack called Ring of Malice. Unlike most area of effect attacks in the game, this one requires you to be close or far away from the boss:

See the black swirls? Yep, those are hard to dodge and do a lot of damage to boot. Taran Zhu, because he’s a terrible, terrible pandaren, also uses Sha Blast on the tank, knocking him/her into the AoE REPEATEDLY. Basically, damage can’t be avoided in this fight. The healer has to be aware these damage spikes at all times, and the tank needs to make a judgment call whether to run back into melee range or stay outside and kite (that is, make the boss follow you) around.

Of course, the last ability really makes the difference here: Gripping Hatred. At a predetermined timer in the fight, Taran Zhu summons 3 Gripping Hatred orbs – these will, after a set time, grab every member in the party and draw them towards the orb. Surprise surprise, the orbs are surround by shadow pools which deal large amounts of damage. The orbs can grip you from one orb to the other. Additionally, Ring of Malice and this AoE damage STACK. You can imagine this leads to death quickly for the WHOLE party. The ranged damage dealers (DPS) MUST kill these orbs as they spawn, or the whole party bounces around and dies from too much damage.

There’s not much room for error, honestly; everyone needs to do EXACTLY what the game wants, and if you don’t…well, be prepared to die over and over again. I like this, personally. Do I get angry? Sure! I’m pretty sure I yelled at the screen. Usually, I group with family, so there’s always one slot open…making each and every run a little unpredictable. Will this random person do the right thing? Can I trust them to know what’s going on, or not? It’s tense but satisfying. Mostly, my father’s on Gripping Hatred duty, and he’s quite efficient at it.

But, and let me make this clear, this is exactly the kind of experience I wanted from World of WarCraft: teamwork. The whole team should be involved AND necessary to complete any given task. If it didn’t (as it really hasn’t in any non-Raid or PvP content for the past eight years), what’s the point of the game? You can’t be the hero who single-handedly saves the day (well, in questing you can, but that’s a different story). Rather, you need to work as a group. Seperate, and you die; work together, and you’ll succeed. The stark nature of this dichotomy becomes especially clear with the strangers in my group; one loose gear derails the whole machine, and it fails. If you don’t understand your role, we will all fail. The blame games don’t help.

1 Corinthians 12 becomes as fitting a reference as any for this:

14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 If they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; 23 and those members of the body which we deem less honorable,on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable,24 whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, 25 so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Surely, I’ve used this section before; surely, I’ll use it again. World of WarCraft’s never been a one-man show. Even that one guy who really drags the group down, does low damage, or otherwise can still benefit the group by taking the least damage possible and doing his job. WoW makes this so clear by making bosses that require exemplary play and bring the best out in everyone. Play well with others and there is rewards. No one’s inferior or superior if you all die.

Most reviews would say Pandaria’s just more of the same. Where have these people been?

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • I think the fact that I don’t play WoW is directly related to the fact that I’m not a team-oriented player when it comes to RPGs. Come to think of it, it might be why gamers are often so selfish? Honestly, I’m just ranting because I want to try to add something to the conversation when I know next to nothing about MMOs at large and probably never will. I avoid them like the plague.

    • @Mjoshua Oh, it’s very, very team oriented. They’re added a lot of solo content, but that stuff exists to augment the group activities. And everyone needs to know their job and what they’re doing, especially in raids. Coordinating 10 or 25 people to take down a boss is hard work, but very satisfying.
      Of course, if you started WoW you’d probably get hooked, and that wouldn’t be, would it? 🙂