WoW Archivist: Secrets of patch 3.1
Brann Bronzebeard screams as he flees from Ulduar, barely evading Kologarn‘s eye-lasers. This was our first glimpse of what patch 3.1 had in store for us. Blizzard called it “Secrets of Ulduar.” It would go down as one of WoW‘s all-time best.
The trailer went on to show us Varian, Jaina, and Rhonin discussing Brann’s findings, only to be interrupted by Thrall and Garrosh. Garrosh once again establishes himself as a hot-headed hater, attacking Varian even as Yogg-Saron casts his shadow over the world. Rhonin has to push the two apart with a blast of arcane magic. “A true warchief would never partner with cowards,” Garrosh says. “At the Wrathgate,” Varian counters, “the Horde’s partnership killed more of our men than the Scourge. I’m done with your Horde. May this ‘death-god’ take you all.” Thus, ongoing enmity between the factions sets the stage for a small band of adventurers to brave the depths alone.
I covered Ulduar in detail on a site that shall not be named, so I won’t do so here. Suffice it to say, Ulduar is still considered by many players — six years later — as the best raid that Blizzard has ever created.
Instead, I will provide you with Blizzard’s original description, which gives me the chills to this day:
What many don’t recall is that the far less popular Argent Tournament event actually began in this patch also. We associate it with patch 3.2, which provided the Trial of the Champion dungeon and the Trial of the Crusader raid. But we laid the groundwork for it here — literally. We participated in quests to help build the coliseum and other tournament infrastructure. Patch 3.1 added most of the elements, including the dailies, rewards, the ability to gain reputation with your racial factions, and … /drumroll … jousting.
“Mounted combat” sounded like a dream come true when Blizzard first announced it. We imagined ourselves shooting arrows from the saddle or slashing at foes from raptorback. The reality was no such thing — we’d have to wait until Warlords of Draenor to live out that particular fantasy. Instead, Argent Tournament jousting was designed as a vehicle-based minigame. You had a new vehicle UI with abilities that revolved around maintaining a shield while breaking down your opponent’s defense.
Annoyingly, you had to equip a lance in your weapon slot in order to do it. The number of players who accidentally tried to fight enemies with their zero-stat lances equipped must total in the millions. We all did it at one point, utterly confused by the tiny numbers popping up over our target’s head.
It’s been said that Blizzard fell in love with their new vehicle UI and went a bit overboard with it in Wrath. Multiple dungeon and raid bosses featured “vehicles,” including Prophet Tharon’ja, Instructor Razuvious, Malygos, Flame Leviathan, the larger portion of the detested Oculus dungeon, etc. etc. Nowhere did players experience “vehicle fatigue” more acutely than with jousting, however.
We had to joust — a lot — as part of our initiation into the tournament. Then we had a daily quest to joust. Winning one joust wouldn’t have been horrible, but the quest required four wins. The Trial of the Champion dungeon in 3.2 also included gratuitous jousting. By then, players were sick to death of jousting and it was the last thing we wanted to do.
Perhaps the biggest legacy of patch 3.1 is the dual talent specialization feature. Prior to this patch, switching specs meant
- traveling to a class trainer,
- paying gold to reset our talent trees,
- reassigning our 71 points into the appropriate talents,
- placing all of our new abilities on our bars,
- finding a Lexicon of Power, an object that allowed you to change glyphs,
- switching our glyphs around (and they were consumable at the time),
- equipping the correct armor and weapons for our new spec, and then
- flying back to whatever dungeon or raid we were trying to complete.
Even if you weren’t the one who had to switch, you had to sit around while the other person accomplished all these tasks. It was an absolute headache.
After dual talent specs were introduced in 3.1, switching took seconds rather than 20 minutes. And it was free — once you paid the 1000 gold to unlock it anyway. (You also had to be level 40 at first.) Few changes in WoW have had a more lasting impact than this one.
For many players, dual talents fundamentally changed our in-game identity. Many of us began to think of ourselves as not just a balance druid or holy paladin but as balance/resto or holy/ret. Dual talents made it so easy to switch that many raiding guilds expected players to have two specs ready to go at any given time. The ability to alter your raid comp so quickly became a key part of progression raiding. It also helped PUGs succeed that might have collapsed when people realized they’d have to wait around while that fury warrior switched to prot. PvP players loved the ability to switch between their PvE and PvP specs without effort.
Glyphs, on the other hand, remained consumable. They weren’t tied to our spec like they are today. So you still had to switch them manually. Fortuantely, Blizzard did away with the Lexicon of Power requirement in this patch, so you didn’t have to travel to a city to switch glyphs. Those glowing, hovering books were relevant for exactly one patch, but they still exist in the game. In fact, you have one in your garrison right now if you have a Scribe’s Quarters.
The equipment manager was supposed to go live in 3.1 to facilitate swapping armor when you swapped specs, but players had to wait until patch 3.1.2 a month later. Addons like Outfitter became more popular than ever.
Another controversy in 3.1 was less about playing the game and more about social issues. Noblegarden was delayed in 2009 because patch 3.1 included a complete overhaul of the event. The revamp added achievements, a pet, a daily quest, cosmetic items, and the controversial Spring Flowers item.
Using Spring Flowers put rabbit ears on a target player. That seems innocent enough on its own, if you ignore or are unaware of the concept of a “Playboy bunny.” But Blizzard went out of their way to call attention to the seedier side of rabbit-ear costumes. One new achievement was called Shake Your Bunny-Maker. To earn it, you had to use Spring Flowers to put bunny ears on a female of each race. It was bad enough that the achievement only targeted female players, and that it was a pun referring to exotic dancing for cash, but the other requirement is that the players had to be at least 18th level. In the United States, 18 is the legal minimum age for nude photos.
Many players called the achievement sexist. They took to the official forums and other sites to complain about it. Blogger Robin Torres wrote that she didn’t find it offensive — but the fact that she even had to tells you that maybe Blizzard should have designed the achievement differently. Simply allowing male players to be valid targets could have prevented the controversy.
The demise of “ghetto hearthing”
The original cooldown on hearthstones was a full 60 minutes. Considering many dungeons took less than an hour, an hour-long cooldown on hearthstones was brutal. It was no surprise that players made use of every loophole they could to travel around faster. In classic WoW, players exploited the auto unstuck feature, which teleported you to your hearthstone location whether your heartstone was on cooldown or not.
After Blizzard removed auto unstuck hearthing, players found another loophole using instances. When you left a group and you were inside their instance, the game kicked you out of the instance after 1 minute, like it does today. Back then, however, instead of sending you to the nearest graveyard, it sent you to your hearthstone’s location — regardless of your current hearth cooldown. Players would purposely form groups and enter dungeons so they could hearth this way. The community called it “ghetto hearthing.”
Blizzard changed the instance boot teleport to the graveyard in 3.1. To compensate, they also reduced the cooldown on hearthstones from 60 minutes to 30.
- The patch was dedicated to Dave Arneson, the co-developer of Dungeons & Dragons along with Gary Gygax. He died of cancer in 2009 a week prior to the patch.
- With Ulduar came Val’anyr, Hammer of Ancient Kings, the first (and only) legendary weapon specifically made just for healers. Blizzard designed it to be outclassed by future tier’s weapons during Wrath. Players complained that the long grind to obtain one felt like a waste in that case — especially since the next tier was released so quickly after 3.1. Blizzard eventually gave in and buffed Val’anyr’s stats to make it viable through the remainder of the expansion.
- The game’s first dungeon maps were added. Maps were only provided for Northrend dungeons at first, but other maps would eventually follow. The Burning Crusade‘s dungeons didn’t receive maps until patch 4.1 in 2011, more than four years after they went live.
- Brew of the Year was removed from the Brewmaster title, so players wouldn’t have to wait between 11 and 12 months to complete the What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been holiday meta.
- Blizzard paved the way for the eventual removal of ammunition for hunters by allowing it to stack to 1000 and doing away with the quiver/ammo pouch haste bonuses.
- Blessing of Kings and Divine Spirit became baseline in this patch. They had been talents.
- Dalaran’s fishing dailies went live in this patch, as well as the chance to catch a Sea Turtle. Blizzard removed the requirement to visit Nat Pagle and complete a very obnoxious quest catching rare fish all around Azeroth to unlock artisan fishing. Blizzard also lowered the time it takes to fish during each cast and allowed players to fish anywhere, regardless of skill.
- Blizzard also reduced the time it takes to gather herbs.
- Flasks were nerfed from a two-hour duration to one hour. Alchemists retained the extra hour as a profession perk (which originally made flasks last for three hours!).
- Ground mounts gained the ability to swim without dismounting their riders. Flying mounts would have to wait for another patch.
- The Wind-Up Train Wrecker was added in this patch to counter 3.0’s obnoxious Toy Train Set. Jepetto Joybuzz sells us a problem. Then he sells us a solution. That gnome is a true entrepreneur.
- This patch added the first colorblind option for WoW. Blizzard is still making improvements to the game’s colorblind options.
- Most amusing bug fix: Monsters will stop trying to chase a Gargoyle after it flies away.
- Most random patch note: A tie between “Horde characters may now obtain the quest CLUCK! from Chickens” and “Yaaarrrr! now has a detailed tooltip.”
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