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WoWAug 15, 2015 6:00 pm CT

Plaguebearer: Initial Death Knight impressions from Legion

When I first began writing this week’s column I seriously contemplated going with my original idea about gearing in Hellfire Citadel for DKs. Of course, common sense prevailed — none of you are really interested in gear from this boring tier when there’s a brand new (announced!) expansion in the works, are you? Thus, today’s topic focuses on the admittedly scant information we currently have about Death Knights in the newest expansion: Legion. For the sake of brevity, I’m going to assume that most of my readers are familiar with the basic tenets of announced features such as Artifacts and Class Halls, and will jump right into their Death Knight-specific implications.


Artifacts: Frostmourne returns… Sort of

Very few items in World of Warcraft are as iconic as Frostmourne has and still continues to be. We’ve been familiar with the diabolical power of this runeblade ever since Warcraft 3 — from the moment that Arthas took it up as a misguided Paladin to when the sword was shattered by Tirion Fordring atop Icecrown Citadel. Blizzard even jokingly proposed the existence of Frostmourne as the first ever Artifact Weapon to be introduced to the game during Wrath of the Lich King, the irony of which can surely be appreciated even more today!

In 2010, Blizzard’s creative development team tantalized us by revealing that “…no one knows where the remnants of Frostmourne are now.” At the time, many of us assumed that this was an acknowledgement of a future battle with a foolish individual that would have reforged the sword or used its fragments for their own nefarious purposes. Well, worry not — it turns out that that foolish individual is us! In Legion, Frost Death Knights will seek out the shattered remains of Frostmourne and reforge them into two one-handed swords: Icebringer and Soulreaper. While there may be some gripes about why we haven’t elected to simply reforge Frostmourne in its entirety, I am quite pleased from a lore sensibilities point-of-view: Who better to wield the Lich King’s former weapons than his own creations? It doesn’t hurt that the currently displayed model options for the pair of swords are quite stunning, either — personally, I fully intend to go for the one that is strikingly reminiscent of Sindragosa!

Of course, Frostmourne is not where our Artifact excitement concludes — Death Knights were graced with not one, but two of their Artifacts revealed during Blizzard’s Legion announcement at Gamescom 2015. If Frostmourne’s revelation was an affirmation of our roots, then the Blood DK Artifact, Maw of the Damned, appears to be a way to link our class’s involvement to the coming expansion. The flavor text for the two-handed axe reads that its wielder, Gorelix the Fleshripper, “…used this massive axe to steal the life force of his enemies and replenish his own. The Maw will bleed dry anything it touches — eating is all it knows.” While the lore here is certainly new, the vampiric theme seems to fit Blood as a spec quite well. It is also worth noting that a rendered model of a two-handed sword named Soulrend, is quite likely the Unholy Death Knight Artifact. Until this is officially confirmed however, we can only reliably name two Artifacts for our class.


Interlude: The fate of Two-Handed Frost

Before we shift topics to class halls, it is likely in our best interest to address the elephant in the room: Why are the only Frost Artifacts that we’ve seen so far one-handed swords? Why don’t they have a two-handed counterpart? Quite simply, because Blizzard has confirmed that Warlords of Draenor will be the last expansion in which a two-handed sub-spec exists — in Legion, Frost will be a dual-wielding spec exclusively.

From a game balance perspective, I concede that this is likely a wise move. As much as I supported Blizzard’s attempts to create two distinct playstyles based on weapon choice and personal preferences for Frost through Mists of Pandaria and Warlords, the results have never panned out as hoped. In the majority of cases, DW Frost outstripped its two-handed counterpart due to its significant cleave advantage in PVE. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the existence of both sub-specs has made balancing extremely difficult — for example, Obliterate was phased out of the DW Frost rotation for all of Patch 5.4 (or, at best, shown to be DPS neutral to use on single-target). Why wasn’t it buffed, you might ask? Quite simply because there was likely a worry at Blizzard that doing so would have caused the ability to hit far too hard for two-handed Frost.

To be fair, it’s possible to argue that Blizzard could have simply handled buffs/debuff to sub-spec modifiers (Might of the Frozen Wastes and Threat of Thassarian) that gave each sub-spec their unique number boost. However, I am inclined to believe that they considered this a bother and something that was not optimal to design around. As such, dual-wielding is now the sole option afforded to Death Knights that choose to spec Frost. It is currently unknown whether this this means that Frost DKs will be unable to wield a two-handed sword at all, or if it will simply be suboptimal to do so; past precedent would indicate that it is likely the former.

Now, I want to make something clear: I fully acknowledge that many players enjoy the playstyle afforded by two-handed Frost. I am also aware of the fact that two-handed Frost represents the closest thing to a “Lich King”-like playstyle that many players feel is crucial for the fantasy behind the class. After all, who can forget the Lich King chasing us in the Halls of Reflection, a massive ice storm swirling around him as Frostmourne glittered menacingly in his hand? Should this type of fantasy simply cease to exist in the interest of better balance?

My own opinion of the matter is twofold. I would normally advocate for Frost DKs to be shifted to a system similar to Windwalker Monks, where their actual ability damage is calculated via a special formula using weapon DPS instead of weapon damage — however, I am nowhere near as comfortable advocating that DKs get this treatment without knowing what the future holds in store for mechanics such as Killing Machine and new abilities/talents coming our way. It could simply be that the Windwalker treatment is not an option for Frost, which I would accept if logical reasons were given. My second opinion on the matter is that if two-handed Frost is indeed destined to perish then Blizzard should put serious thought into bringing back a two-handed spec with large hits. Whether this is a pet-less version of Unholy that forgoes diseases or a Gladiator Stance-type talent for Blood DKs is entirely up to Blizzard.


Acherus: The Ebon Hold moves!

There’s been considerable discussion and debate about the nature of Class Halls being introduced in Legion. From concerns about their origin as a furthering of the follower system from Garrisons, to some players balking at the idea of being appointed “leaders” for their various classes, the feature clearly has a lot more we’d like to see before forming a solid impression. There’s also the fact that some class communities (Rogues, for example) are quite irate about the proposed location of their class hall — the Dalaran sewers in this case. Additionally, some classes are left wondering as to exactly where their halls will be located. As another example, Druids can all teleport to Moonglade but have no known sanctuary on the Broken Isles. What will this mean for them?

Fortunately, Death Knights need not concern themselves with the squabbles of lesser classes — our class hall is mobile! Screenshots from Gamescom reveal that the Ebon Hold has apparently moved to situate itself directly East of the area known as the Broken Shores. Presumably, we can expect updates to the necropolis model, new NPCs and new questlines; remember that Acherus hasn’t received any real update since it premiered during Wrath. I’m personally hoping to see a DK-only questline that sees the Koltira/Thassarian storyline finally resolved — that plot has been percolating for over five years at this point, and I can think of no better way to resolve it than for the Ebon Blade to finally take action against Sylvanas!

What are your opinions on the death of two-handed Frost? Do you like the lore/theme behind our currently displayed Artifacts? What are your hopes for the Ebon Hold in its new home?

Until next time, suffer well brethren!

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