Game Design Exercise: Sky City of the Apexis

Do not fear, even though this post does not have “Farahlon” in the title, it doesn’t mean I abandoned or finished that project, or even that this post isn’t part of the series. Indeed, this is a continuation of the previous post which talked about the dungeon associated with the Farahlon patch – this time we’re dealing with the culmination of its storylines and content, that is the Sky City of the Apexis raid, which I don’t doubt players would dub SCA or SCotA. It’s meant as an Ulduar-style raid, with multiple wings and a total of twelve bosses, with each wing having its own separate environment. And don’t worry – although I’m myself not a raiding person, I know what makes them tick in most people. So I’d probably hate playing this myself.

SkyCityThe Sky City is first introduced to you during the Farahlon storyline (details of which will be the subject of the remaining Farahlon posts). While you notice it on the sky, your allies remark it arrived recently and for months beforehand you could see strange flashes of light on the skies of eastern Farahlon, coming from the direction that the Sky City arrived from. That’s about as much as you hear from your main storyline, but the lore questline you’re doing for Reshad and the two Verroaks, that led you through the two arakkoa dungeons, continues when you’re ready to enter the Sky City raid. Of course, you could simply fly up to the city and enter the raid portal or just queue for it in LFR, but where’s the fun in that?

Reshad informs you that the Sky City arrived shortly before the Iron Horde forces, and its imminent arrival might have in fact provoked them to act. You learn that it has always been part of arakkoa legends and many stories were passed down throughout the generations, a lot of them probably highly warped but its arrival gives you the chance to verify those stories. Legends say, it was constructed in Gorgrond and then flew towards Highmaul where it prepared to destroy the ogre capital in its infancy… only to fly away, as doom took over the Apexis. It disappeared over the oceans for countless generations and now returned from the other side, apparently remaining on the other hemisphere for all those years.

Reshad asks Dawn-Seeker Verroak to get you a transport to the Sky City and soon, Auroral Spirehawks arrive and take you, Reshad and some other NPCs into the air. You fly together towards the city and land on its lowest wing, in a small Order of the Awakened Camp, located right in front of an area dominated by ghosts, vrocks and hijacked constructs. With help from the Awakened, you cross that area going into the main entrance to the Apex – the heart of the city.

Unfortunately, the bridge leading from the outdoor area to the Apex is raised and you can’t enter it. Reshad promptly goes to the console and attempts to lower the bridge. However, you hear an ominous noise – the cawing of the vrocks. Fel-Sage Rhaze himself is coming down to you from the highest wing and announces he has already taken a position there and taken control of the tesla coils warding the three higher wings. These tesla coils will prevent the Awakened, the player or really anyone who isn’t a vrock, from arriving on the higher wings by air. He uses one of those coils to destroy the console, preventing you from opening the bridge directly to the Apex, and sends his minion to attack you, as he flies off towards his spot in the raid. When you defeat the elite vrock he sent, Reshad admits you’ll have to take the long way into the Apex – through all the wings, forced to defeat every boss on your way there.

The Machinarium

Raid portal is located on the upper left corner of the outdoor wing. When you cross it, you have a small area directly behind it and the stairs leading up to the Machinarium to organize yourself. Once you ascend those stairs, you are properly in the first wing. Its environment is best described as “heavy steampunk”. Almost everything in this wing is made from machines with many moving parts, rotating gears and steam pistons. If you were ever inside a Dwemer Ruin in any Elder Scrolls games, you know what you’re going to find here – except it’s all high up in the air! Most of the trash here is mechanical, as are all the bosses. There is no given order to defeat the bosses of this wing, but all must be killed before you can proceed.

Probably the first boss you’re going to encounter is Avtmaton. He patrols the main alley of the Machinarium, which is also filled with packs of Apexis golems. As the dungeon journal would tell you, he was one of the first Apexis golems and because of that, he looks different. His appearance is much closer to a winged arakkoa, except made of metal and gears. Avtmaton was actually an engineer that invented the golems and as a reward for his service, his spirit was cast into this special golem.

As the first boss, he’s not meant to be particularly difficult. He uses mechanical versions of the usual high arakkoa spells – including throwing mecha-chakrams (mechakrams?) that travel across specific paths dealing AoE and exploding upon reaching their target. He also casts Kaleidoscope, a particularly nasty version of that which lands in a spot and explodes into a whole maze of rotating, whirling blades. He is still capable of casting Solar Wrath and LoS-obstructing windwalls, as well as summoning mechanical birds as his guardians. And don’t stand at his sides – his wings are now made of razor-sharp blades that will damage everyone standing at his sides when he swings.

After his death you can safely proceed to the three remaining bosses of this wing. First of them, marked with on the concept map is Eye of the High Architect. As you might imagine by the name, it’s an Apexis Oculus. It’s located in the lower sections of this wing and you have descend a few small levels filled with annoying Oculi to get to it. This eye is an experimental one made by the High Architect Frvhamurgh, whose ghost still rules the city. Because of how dangerous it is, it’s locked to the walls with two beams of energy. It is also surrounded with still-functioning factories which can (and will) make more small Oculi.

The Eye begins the fight rooted in its spot. Its basic attack is a concentrated beam that fires on your tank without stopping, and will probably finally kill him after a while, healers or not (so you have to switch tanks). It also has smaller cannons mounted on its sides which fire bursts of energy towards a random player, leaving pools of energy at those spots (best avoided). Most of the challenge during this phase comes from adds that keep constantly being produced by the factories around you. They can either charge at you and explode, or fixate and concentrate their own beams on you, or glue themselves to a player and begin discharging energy. If it’s left without anyone in melee range, the boss will begin casting a discharge that will slowly kill you.

But wait, there’s more! After losing a certain amount of health, the boss loses the beams anchoring it and is now free to move around. It no longer fires a continuous beam and no longer emits that discharge – in fact, its central eye has turned into teeth. It also turns on a special field that disables the add-production for the time being. However, its whole path is lined with electricity until the boss returns to phase 1. When it does, its add-spawn-disabling field remains on, but at a smaller range. The point of that? You should position the boss so it’s near an Oculus Factory when it returns to phase 1, disabling it and lowering number of adds. On mythic difficulty, there is phase 3 where it remains free without disabling the adds, with an ability to consume them to gain their abilities.

The third boss, marked with 3, is another of High Architect’s experiments. It’s affectionately known as the Grinder, and you can imagine how pretty it is by that name. It was made to solve the problem of the city’s higher than predicted energy consumption, one that even the biggest power core on Draenor couldn’t sate. The Grinder, as you expect, grinds matter down into its base elements, and converts it into energy… with magic. Don’t expect me to know every small detail. However, the matter that has the most energy in it is usually organic matter so the Grinder would require large amount of bodies or plants to function and the council refused to let it work. When the council was off the picture, the High Architect continued to use it.

The Grinder is a unique construct that walks on four spidery legs across its cell on the Machinarium. On top of those legs is a powerful grinding mechanism, with four grinding cylinders as large as a building. Near the windows lie dozens of bodies of birds and other flying creatures sucked into this room with an air mechanism. The Grinder continues to walk between those piles of bodies, grab them with two spindly limbs and put it into the grinding mechanism. The boss has a special energy bar that gets filled by the bodies it consumed – be it the bodies near the windows, or bodies of players it slays. At default, it simply attacks with two circular chainsaws on the tips of its limbs and pulls players towards itself. Occasionally, it will abandon the tank and walk towards the closest body to replenish energy. If enough damage is dealt, it will go back to fighting. If it can consume enough bodies to refill its energy, it goes crazy with various AoE attacks – eventually, that is inevitable but should be minimized.

The last boss in this wing, marked with 4 is Centrix-D5K. This is probably the boss I would hate the most as it’s mostly an AoE nightmare all throughout the fight. It’s a giant centurion (so it has a centaur-type body) that keeps dropping saw-blades everywhere, in various kinds of combinations. It throws a rotating saw-blade that can explode into smaller saw-blades. It throws a returning saw-blade that damages everything in its path. It swipes everything around it with another saw-blade. It finally has a pattern of saw-blades on the floor that remain active for the whole fight and keep traveling across the pre-established patterns – but here’s the catch, these patterns change randomly every week. It just does a lot of damage meant partially as a gear-check, and partially to finally wake up the players trying to sleep through the raid (like me).

Soliarion

After you defeat Centrix and the other bosses of the Machinarium, the Soliarion opens up, the staircase to it descending towards the previous wing. The Soliarion is the “living quarters” of the city, where the elite of the Apexis once lived. Since they’re now long dead, the area is overgrown, albeit by regular plants, not the Primals who had no way of getting up here. The trash and bosses in this wing is mostly composed of ghosts (undead), some of which still do their mortal chores out of habit, and some of which cling maliciously to their place here in the hopes of revenge. It is from these ghosts that you hope to learn the most about the final days of the Apexis.

Your first boss here, marked with is one of the less lucid ghosts. She’s called Wing-Guard Akari and patrols one of the major roads in the Soliarion, notably the first road you come upon leaving the Machinarium. In life, she was a captain of the city’s wing-guard and died with everyone else on the day the Apexis fell. She still believes she’s alive and every day, she’s reliving that final day that led to her demise. Because every time she senses something’s wrong, her paranoia is growing and she’s accompanied by two deputies who seem to not realize their real fate either.

The deputies will continue healing Akari or occasionally buffing her abilities, but you can’t just kill them first. Akari has a special paranoia meter, which will fall every time her deputies help her, but rise according to how much damage you deal. You want to keep things balanced and only use your strongest abilities at opportune moments, when her paranoia is low. For every deputy’s death, paranoia permanently rises by 50 – so if both of them die, you die. If her paranoia reaches 100, she flips out, functioning as an enrage. At low health, her deputies turn against her, revealing their true colors as servants of the High Architect. Her paranoia generation doubles and you have to kill her quickly.

The next boss, at the very tip of this wing, is her opposite. Cannoneer Rakash is very lucid about what he is and what he’s doing. When you reach him, he’s overseeing a couple of other Apexis ghosts training in using the solar cannons on the very edge of the wing. You don’t think to ask exactly how long they’ve been training before he taunts you to attack him, as he fights for the glory of the High Architect, with an intent to wipe out all “inferior, mammalian” races, finally revealing some of the motives behind the High Architect.

As soon as you attack Rakash, he immediately mounts the largest, central cannon and points it towards you. He will spend most of the encounter on that cannon, peppering your party with various solar attacks, directed or AoE. This boss also summons a lot of adds, most of which will attack you directly, but every once in a while he summons an elite add that mounts one of the remaining four cannons. Every mob and his cannon have separate healthbars and the minor cannons can even be killed before the elites arrive, but if they do and don’t find a cannon to mount they will be very angry. It’s up to you to decide if you can manage dealing with the enraged adds – if you can, kill their cannons. If you can’t, wait till they mount and kill them then. On harder difficulties, the boss will sometimes summon adds that can repair destroyed cannons. When Rakash’s cannon is finally destroyed, his spirit gets blown off the city.

The following two bosses can be done in any order you prefer, but marked under is the Apexis High Council. They still sit within their audience chambers, surrounded by a non-hostile crowd that keeps asking them questions and insulting them (but they remain silent). There are four members, each glowing in a different color. Nor, Isha, Grkha and Vrk were the High Councilors when the Sky City fell and all of its occupants died, them along with it. Although legends say the High Council opposed the plans that doomed the civilizations, these four are in support of the High Architect and his genocidal plans. You find the reason for this difference only at the very end.

When you attack any of the councilors, the crowds turn hostile and attack you. While you should probably dispatch them quickly, they will keep spawning for the duration of the encounter. Although the Council are the big bosses with a large healthbars, probably the real boss here is the crowd. Other than their typical damage abilities, the councilors give their crowds various buffs, called “Inspire <emotion>”. Nor inspires hope and is a healer who gives the mob health regeneration and occasionally resurrects a fallen citizen. Isha inspires Fortitude by granting various mobs shields to protect them from harm and occasionally dropping force fields where the mobs are invulnerable. Grkha inspires anger by increasing attack speed and damage of every mob near her. Vrk inspires fear, which actually disrupt the players instead of helping the mobs.

All do their damaging abilities at once, but not all activate their inspirations at once. In LFR, only one councilor is actively inspiring. On normal, two of them. On heroic, three of them are active at once, and on mythic all four inspire at the same time. It’s up to you which of the councilors dies first, thus depriving the mob of their buffs permanently (or at least until you wipe and all dead councilors respawn).

The final boss here, marked under is the Prophet of Sethe. Bearing no known name, the Prophet of Sethe is a legendary figure for the arakkoa. Spoken of only in whispers, he was the originator of the Sethekk Cult and many stories tell of various depravities he committed in his god’s name. Various stories placed his life in different time periods, but his presence here, as a high arakkoa no less, seems to suggest he lived during the final days of the Apexis. The Prophet of Sethe guards the bridge leading to the highest wing and is surrounded by Sons of Sethe, as well as a few dead vrocks at his feet. When you engage him, he doesn’t even speak in an understandable language.

The Prophet’s main point of interest is a shadowy apparition shield he’s surrounded with, and various Sons of Sethe he can call on for help. Different bony wind serpents have different abilities when targeted against you, but if you don’t kill them quickly enough, the Prophet will drain their power to replenish his apparition shield. One of his damaging abilities, Horror Zone, can also put a stacking debuff on players. Once you have enough of that debuff, he can drain you as well, killing you and replenishing his shield. The goal is to drain his apparition shield to 0 (by attacking him), greatly increasing the damage you deal to him (which means you actually start dealing your regular damage).

The Fallen Wing

Contrary to what the name might suggest, the Fallen Wing did not fall of, nor is it even the lowest wing. Its the highest one on the spiral of wings of this raid and its name comes from its occupants – the vrocks. Rhaze’s people took over this wing of the raid and most of the buildings here appear ruined, further than the rest of the raid at least. Fel energy, summoning circles, corrupted spirits and possessed constructs abound in this quarter, once a place of science. This is what happens when you mix demons with steampunk.

Probably the first boss you encounter here is (under 9Talonite Khukri. In the shortest of terms, she’s a knife-nut. She’s a giant vrock, wielding two large knives that could probably carve up a clefthoof, and has even more knives at her belt. There’s not much lore to her, other than some dungeon journal snippets about her past escapades that landed her in the Pools of Sethe, and then in Rhaze’s service, which made her into a vrock.

While Khukri might look like a rogue, she instead has a Rage bar. She’s a particularly fast melee attacker, but she’s not a Patchwerk. She has a number of special knives that give her special poisons/buffs – including plain damage, a paralytic poison (remember that one from Zangarmarsh?), a slowing poison or a silencing poison. She will switch them at apparently random, but in fact the switches are dictated by how much of her damage is dealt from different sources. On higher difficulties, she has two buffs at once. Of course, she attacks not only in melee but also with fans of knives and by occasionally pinning down a player in a spot for a whole minute.

There is a path directly behind Khukri, but it’s ruined and filled with debris, so you can’t go there. You have to go around the tip of the wing, encountering powerful vrock ritualists who appear to dance to cause powerful AoE. This is just a preview of the second boss of this wing (10), the Vrock Ritualist Cabal, Skith, Pasdar and Eorgh. Another council fight in this raid, these ritualists are all standing at the corners of a triangular energy conduit in the floor, and they appear to be dancing when you reach them. As the dungeon journal tells you, vrock ritualists use a special dance to bring down powerful forces to their aid and these three discovered a particularly powerful conduit that they could use to unleash hell on the High Architect and take over his superweapon. Obviously, you have to stop them.

You only fight one of them at once, as the other two provide their compatriot with a buff. As they share a healthbar, there’s no need to specifically kill one over others. You have a limited time to kill them, as when the spell they’re casting together is finished, it will explode with a massive surge of energy that wipes the raid. Once one of them dies, the feedback kills the other two (explaining the healthbar). Skith provides his active compatriot with an ability to shift into an astral form, temporarily becoming invulnerable. Pasdar gives them the ability to reflect damage back at the players. Finally Eorgh gives them a passive health regeneration.

One thing you should be watching for is where you stand when they switch. They always switch counterclockwise, and before they switch, they announce it, giving you time to get in position. When the switch happens, they unleash an AoE that damages everything in the room except a frontal cone created by the angle of the triangle the activating vrock was standing on. A good group will position themselves in a way that prevents the safe zone from getting spammed with unrelated AoE.

The penultimate boss of the raid (11) is the dreaded Fel-Sage Rhaze himself. Standing right in front of the only way into the Apex, he has to be defeated before you can proceed. Rhaze is not only a powerful warlock and a former Sethekk, but is also in control of the city’s defense systems, including the tesla coils that prevented you from flying in. Even further gone than most vrocks, he has teeth on his beak, spikes coming out of his back and a nearly completely feather-less dark red skin.

Apart from the obvious warlock-type AoE, like throwing Hands of Gul’dan and Rains of Fire, he will also call forth demons and fel-corrupted Apexis constructs. The two tesla coils he begins the fight with can be damaged for a temporary respite from their attack, but they slowly regenerate over time. If you time “killing” them well, you prevent one of his major attacks. Said attack has him call forth a couple of grounding rods from the floor and launch a massive surge of energy from the coils. You can click on those grounding rods to minimize damage, but if both coils are “dead” at the time, you avoid the damage altogether. He can also occasionally mind-control a player and turn them into a vrock, forcing the others to bring their friend’s health down a bit. When he dies, he decides to take everyone with him and casts a massive AoE that can only be avoided by clicking on his old grounding rods.

The Apex

Unfortunately, it turns out Rhaze didn’t unearth any important lore of the Apexis. He only reactivated a ton of their constructs and corrupted them with fel energies, which wasn’t anything particularly outstanding. As you proceed into the Apex, you find a large observatory and a council chamber. This is where the High Council once ruled the city from, and in fact you can find their physical bodies still in their chairs, apparently killed on the spot. The observatory beyond the council chamber has a still-functioning model of Draenor’s solar system, but is filled with various junk and weapons – something clearly added post-fact. The Apex is obviously filled with trash that is mostly upgraded versions of the trash from the first two wings. When the chamber is cleared, you are presented with a large, obvious lever. Many wipes are undoubtedly caused by pressing the lever too early.

Once the lever is pressed, the spirit of the High Architect Frvhamurgh <Doom of the Apexis> materializes in the chamber and begins monologuing about how stupid and dangerous mammals are and how they must all be eliminated. As he slowly walks to his spot, he says that although the High Council once stopped him from using the Weapon against the filthy mammals, no one can stop him now. With all the ghosts and constructs dead, he now regained full control of the city and only you stand between him and his victory.

Despite being a ghost, he’s still heavily armed and uses a full arsenal of Apexis weaponry against the players, including the dreaded saw-blades, sonic weapons and solar lasers. His core mechanic is the Sky City’s Power Core, the largest power core ever built and one that used the power of Draenor’s sun to power itself for countless generations. However now the High Architect is taxing its power to use the superweapon on top of the Apex’s dome. The more damage he can deal to the players, the more power goes to the power core, speeding up its recharge. If its power reaches 100%, the core is overloaded and explodes, killing everyone. The power can be drained off into various other constructs the High Architect summons, by kiting them to a proper spot. However, those constructs become more dangerous that way.

In mythic difficulty, the High Architect protects himself with a bubble at 10% health and channels most of his remaining energy into the power core. This time, the core doesn’t blow up and instead properly powers up the Weapon. the High Architect opens up the roof of the observatory and mans the Weapon, beginning his last phase. The Awakened fly in and carry you to the roof where you face the Weapon in battle. Its most prominent ability is firing a concentrated beam of light into a random player’s location. Players should run away from those beams while damaging the Weapon, but there are also Awakened Warders standing with protective bubbles around them. Those bubbles have healthbars, though, so you shouldn’t overuse them. There might also be an achievement for finishing the Weapon without losing a single Warder.

No matter on what difficulty you killed the High Architect, if you’re on Reshad’s questline he will drop a special recording disk that promises to reveal the true cause of the fall of the Apexis. His death also opens up stairways from the Apex to all the other wings, including the outdoor one, giving you a quick way out or back to some trash you want to finish (for whatever reason). When you bring the recording to Reshad, he begins the new quest whose only objective is “Watch the Fall of the Apexis”. He approaches an active Awakened Oculus and plugs in the recording disk, which begins a custscene.

The cutscene beings by showing the Sky City above Highmaul, and then zooms into the Apex. You see the High Council, still alive and sitting in their chairs, listening to a plan by the High Architect. He shows them what his weapon can truly do and fires it into Highmaul. As the councilors watch the onslaught on the projections from their Oculi, they are horrified. They want to destroy the ogre threat but not at that cost. They fear what they would become if they did that to assure their victory and refuse to use the Weapon. The High Architect is furious and when his begging has no results, he mounts the Weapon and uses it to kill the High Council. Then, in his fury, turns the Weapon against the Sky City, killing everyone in it. When he’s done, the Weapon powers down and he dies from exhaustion. The High Council’s maddened spirits now congratulate him.

You finish the cutscene and Reshad is elated at finally solving the greatest mystery of the arakkoa history. While the recording only shows how the Sky City was wiped out, he says he can speculate the rest from material evidence on the ground. When the Sky City was completed as a project to make the arakkoa rival their creator, all the elites left the ground cities and settled up here. When the High Architect went mad and wiped the Sky City out, the arakkoa were left without their elites and soon succumbed to the Rise of the Gorian Empire, with ogres furious for the onslaught finishing the job. The few remaining arakkoa then fled to Arak to avoid prosecution, and a group of vicious peasants proclaimed themselves the Sun-Sages, bringing in a new era of arakkoa history.

And that’s it for the Sky City and its associated storyline. Hope it was to everyone’s satisfaction, because next week we return to more lore posts. This time, you will see the rest of the Alliance storyline I began in a post weeks ago. After that we have our final post, detailing the Horde storyline.

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About Arakkoa

Verroak Krasha, an Arakkoa druid with over 50 years of experience. Formerly from Farahlon, during the Orcish expansion relocated to Skettis, then to Sethekk Halls, then to rebuilt Shattrath, following the heresies in each of those places. Finally, he founded his own succesfull alchemy business and set out into the wide cosmos to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and boldly go where no bird has flown before. View all posts by Arakkoa

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