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Friday, December 16, 2016

A Panoramic Journey through Mirage


Mirage is Wizard101's latest world and one of its strong point is the variety of environments and locations within the world. Looking at the Mirage world map, you wouldn't guess there's much diversity with only five similar-looking areas marked. There's actually a lot hidden within the sands of Mirage, and I'm going to show some panorama images as I walk you through the world. I'll summarize important story pieces and examine which areas are mapped and sold in pay walls.

There are twenty-eight total. Enjoy!


#1 The Sand Sea


Mirage starts out in the Sand Sea, which isn't really a part of the world, but rather, a plane in the middle of the Spiral somewhere. The world door is lost somewhere here, and while Mirage employs the "getting there is half the fun" motto a little bit, it's definitely not a pre-Pirate-Marleybone 3-hour series of dungeons. It's pretty quick. 

For such a quick location, in fact, it's quite large and there's a lot of unused space to wander around in, which is half the fun of the Sand Sea. Enjoy your time there, though, because once you're finished and in Mirage, the portal to the Sand Sea closes with no way to return. 

I'll be taking careful note of which zones are mapped in Mirage. We'll take the zone pricing and number of zones in Mirage versus other worlds into consideration. Part of the fun of this zone is figuring out where you're going, so while it technically has no map, there are some original illustrations for it, but it does not fall in the vicinity of Mirage and isn't long or large enough to be really considered a part of the world.



#2 Caravan, Deserted


Caravan is your world hub and where your journey begins. It's a gathering place for desert nomads. It's a central meeting point and a place of safety for traders. With a sand storm having just thrown Mirage into much chaos, Burdie and Sandiago are requesting your assistance with ensuring the safe arrival of the many travelers that are coming. At first, it's totally deserted. This is, I believe, the only world hub with both health and mana wisps, and they're everywhere, making this a great place to refuel quickly during or after a tough fight.

This is a mapped zone and the center of the portion of Mirage we explore. It's connected to Aggrobah, the Alkali Barrows, the Rubal Wastes, and Caterwaul Canyons. Looking at the Mirage world map, this suggests only five major zones, but many are hidden. 



#3 Alkali Barrows


The Alkali Barrows are just outside the canyons surrounding Caravan, shown on the left. It's a sandy plane where the great king was once buried, his statue broken and scattered across the area. This is also where you'll first meet Overlord Xerxes. I definitely have mixed feelings about the Barrows. While mounds of sand do take time to create for individualized locations and some areas have to be flattened out for battles and such, it's definitely an easier creation than some areas. On the other hand, it's really beautiful. One thing they did with Mirage is really change up the sky quite a bit in different locations. 

This is a mapped location, but a really interesting map given how much of it is again mounds of sand. This zone is sold with Caravan for 1995 crowns, so you can progress pretty far through these two major locations without paying much, In recent expansions, two zones per pay wall is pretty standard.



#4 River District, Aggrobah


Aggrobah is really interesting. When I first pictured Mirage in my head, I pictured quite a few more cityscapes like this, but my guess is that's more of a Rajah thing (which we'll not likely be seeing in either game any time soon). A lot of it is very tightly packed with buildings, so the River District was one place I was drawn to being a little more open for a panoramic shot.

Aggrobah is another mapped zone (that's three now), and is perhaps the most complex of any zone. There are a lot of buildings here, and the structure is really quite clever. Alleyway dungeons are in actual alleyways, and many of the alleyways that use the same interior models are actually the same physical alleyway accessed from a different spot. This zone is sold all by itself for 1995 crowns, which is a little bit odd, but the Arcanum was also sold by itself in Polaris.



#5 Caravan from Above


One of the things I always say about different game locations is that the more accessible vertical you can build, the more impressive the location. That's a tactic used in Caravan, with the world door opening up on the top of a ledge and providing access to the encampment below. You'll notice more tents here than in the first image. As you progress, more and more individuals arrive. They provide access to more side quests, new shops, and other goodies. 



#6 Caravan, Restored


After dedicating a good portion of Mirage to saving the wandering nomads, you finally get to see Caravan full of life. Minus the fact that reagents are now a little tougher to spot, it's a welcome change. The hub of any world is usually a pretty busy, central place. In Polaris, it's a sort of city center. We've got defense headquarters, crossroads, and more, all with a general theme that the new Caravan fits in well with.



#7 Into Caterwaul


With all of the nomads safely in Caravan, having recruited the help of Ozzy in the Alkali Barrows and discovering the Overlord Xerxes has been resurrected, and putting a stop to the warring factions n Aggrobah, your work is only just beginning. While you have some support from the Sultana, you've going to need the help of the different Qhat Houses, who are unfortunately all in some form of turmoil. Several are located in the bottom of Caterwaul Canyon. On one hand, this panorama and the one below and not particularly good indications of the area as a whole given that this is only part of it, but it definitely the most scenic part.

This is our fourth mapped zone. Pricing gets weird here. You buy three mapped zones - Caterwaul, Rubal Wastes, and Chronoverge - for 1995 crowns, which I suppose makes up for Aggrobah being sold separately. Caterwaul Canyons is an interesting zone because the story here is so split up. There are portions with the House Qhats, later a return to locate the Thieves' Den and after that a journey to the Zruvan Grotto.



#8 Caterwaul Canyon Floor


I've said it one and I'll say it again - the more vertical the better. While the ramps down definitely don't look natural, that might not be the point. The Qhats likely didn't start down there, after all. Caterwaul is full of interesting locations and connection points. Besides the aforementioned Thieves' Den and Zruvan Grotto, Caterwaul also connected to the Buried Gardens, though it is not a mapped zone. While Aggrobah has some interesting interiors, they pale in comparison to the Qhat nobility's dwellings. 



#9 Jezzerit Counsel Hall


This is one example of the beautiful interiors. KingsIsle made three room structures - a square, a rectangle, and an octagon (maybe it has more than eight sides - could be a low-poly circle). They then use different textures in each of the houses and combinations of these to give the appearance of so many different rooms and room types with minimal additional modeling. And it works well, too.

The Jezzerit Counsel Hall, to my understanding, is not a house of nobility, but rather a sort of worship center, church, or temple. The Qhats here, however, aren't what they seem.



#10 Buried Gardens


Some of my major questions about Mirage have to do with how the plans of the House Qhats and Grandfather Spider and the Scorpion converge. On one hand, you've got a Chronomancer whose house demands he favor them by resurrecting the Overlord as a servant, which obviously doesn't work out. Then the Scorpion wants to take over Mirage with his undead army, a group of which he's sent to the Buried Gardens to bring back a Chronoshard. Then you've got Grandfather Spider who isn't a fan of Scorpion's plan (to put it lightly), and is busy reversing the Sands of Time with the help of the Cabal. Did Scorpion influence the Qhats to resurrect the body for him to use as a disguise? Did the Qhats know of Grandfather Spider's plan? Does anybody know what's going on around here!?

Part of coming here is to recover that Chronoshard to be read to discover the true heir of one of the Qhat houses. The Djinni Murdak looks after it upon retrieval.



#11 Rubal Wastes


The Rubal Wastes is full of more sand dunes and also contains the portal to the Chronoverge. You gain access here halfway through Caterwaul because you need to consult a Chronomancer, which is probably why it's sold with both the Chronoverge and Caterwaul. You won't end up using much of it until later on in the story, though. Upon successful completion of all of Caterwaul, you return here to recruit the next house. Intermixed, you'll find the Yakhal Mountain and Tower of Babble bits.

This is our fifth mapped location. Now we have all of the major ones on the world map - Caravan, Alkali Barrows, Caterwaul Canyons, Aggrobah, and Rubal Wastes. Worlds as of late have had nine major mapped locations. The good news is you now have 6 of 9 for only 3 of 6 pay walls.



#12 The Chronoverge

What you might not have known about Mirage is that each grain of sand is a moment in the Spiral (I'm not sure if that's all grains of sand, just the sand in the Sands of Time. Maybe I'll stepping on your sand moments, not sure...) These are kept in proper working order at the Sands of Time. Grandfather Spider intends to reverse the Sands of Time here with the help of the Cabal and return to the time of the First World (which the new writer has combined as FirstWorld, but I still like it separate). 

This is the sixth mapped location, though quite small. It leads to both the Calibration Chamber and Sands of Time. As mentioned, it's included with the Caterwaul Canyons and Rubal Wastes.



#13 House Calixco


House Calixco is in a small Oasis-type area in the middle of the Rubal Wastes. It is led by a mad Baron whose doctor is just sure the next treatment will cure him, and who throws all of his children into exile or prison. Clearly unfit to rule and unwilling to join your alliance against Xerxes, something has to change. Even if you throw the Baron out, though, you need a replacement. The Djinni there, Nashkurgal, suggests you break his daughter Teddy out of Tetrus Prison in Istanboa and recover the Chronoshard there.



#14 Into Istanboa


These House Qhats sure are making things a pain. You've now got to locate and enter snake territory then find and break into their prison. Istanboa is a subterranean snake-shaped area that is now almost a prison in itself. The Kobra Kommander keeps a pretty tight lock on the doors, with no one getting in or out. Fortunately for you, that means an inside ally who will strike a deal for freedom. Snake Plizkin has broken out of Tetrus Prison but is stuck in Istanboa.

This is the seventh mapped location. It's somewhat small overall, but the curve to it used to mimic a snake makes it seem larger. It also has connection points to Tetrus Prison, the Ruins of Catstantinople, and the entrance from Rubal Wastes. It is purchased with Yakhal Mountain for 1995 crowns.



#15 Deeper Down


It's interesting looking at the concept art for Istanboa because the art makes it seem more extensive. It makes me wonder if the plan was always to have it shaped like a snake or be as compact as it is, or if this was an idea after the art stage with the general look being adopted from the art.



#16 Ruins of Catstantinople

This was the first teaser we got from Wizard101, and I really thought it'd be a mapped location, but it isn't. Actually, it's an instance with three battles, but it's one of the better-looking instances. The actual zone named the Ruins of Catstantinople doesn't have a map either and is a single-room location leaders to this and another instance and connecting to Istanboa.



#17 Yakhal Promenade


The final Qhat house to be added to the Aggrobah Alliance is one located inside Yakhal Mountain. To me it seems like a mix of Aggrobah and the rest of the Qhat locations. This is a three-tiered zone with a hierarchy that is both physical and political. Chairman Meow resides at the top in his hall and the ice workers at the bottom, slaving away. More on that with the next two. 

This is our eighth mapped location, which leaves one left according to the new standard world structure (there are actually two more). For being so far down on the list, I wasn't as impressed as I hoped I'd be, but it was still a neat spot. Yakhal Mountain is sold with Istanboa for 1995 crowns in the fourth of six pay walls.



#18 Basking Grounds


This is where the point of contention originates. Yakhal Mountain is the sort of paradise getaway you've always dreamed of, especially in Mirage. The Basking Grounds, at the top of the mountain, provide a place to catch some sun, which doesn't reach every part of the mountain interior. The Qhats here are cooled by an ice-powered air conditioning system. Inside the house, Chairman Meow is advised by his Djinni Shamiss. They task you with stopping an oncoming rebellion.



#19 Yakhal Mountain Base


At the base of the mountain, a love affair is in the works and a rebellion is brewing. Even after attempting to quell the ice keepers (they just don't want to... chill out), you are informed that there's only one real hope - the Ark of Empathy, which will allow all sides to see the other's point of view. Shamiss also asks you to retrieve the Chronoshard from the Tower of Babble, where the Ark is hidden.

After successfully completing Yakhal Mountain, you've now progressed probably two-thirds of the way through Mirage, allied all of the House Qhats, and are ready to meet Xerxes at the North Gate in Aggrobah for a showdown. Initially we thought this might be the final battle of Mirage, but the writers likely felt that it'd be too expected. Following your battle, Grandfather Spider makes an appearance revealing more about his true intentions in the world. Also, someone has been looting the palace, and they stole Istar's lamp.



#20 Thieves' Den


There are three major gangs in Aggrobah. The Ferals were the most willing to bend to Sultana Sharzad's proposed peace in the city, but Loother Ray was more resilient, and ended up being defeated during Peace Talks. Ali Baboon seemed to be all right, but was actually part of a plan to steal some important treasure during your Scorpion Showdown. What ensues is one of my favorite parts of Mirage - a magic carpet chase through the desert leading to a canyon in Caterwaul where you must disguise as part of a dance squad (this happened in Polaris, must be a trend) to sneak into the Den.

This is the ninth mapped zone anad is sold by itself for 1995 crowns. While it's an expensive buy for a location with only a few rooms, this is by far the best spot to find antiquities (two per realm in one zone), which are needed for both badges and legendary crafting.



#21 The Underden


Unlike the Walrus Empress, Ali Baboon sees you coming and sends you throw a trap door to the multi-room Underden. This is a challenge ring for his enjoyment. You face off against some gobblers, a snake bounty hunter, and the dreaded rain core - which is actually an adorable little rain cloud. It's a great chance to humiliate Ali Baboon by defeating all of his allies before taking him down personally after one of only three defeat and collect quests in the world of Mirage.



#22 Treasure Room


Here's where things start to get crazy. After defeating Ali Baboon, you've saved Istar, but there's been a terrible plot in the making. Istar isn't the greatest negotiator. She only got the Qhat houses to agree to your alliance by helping all of the Djinn steal the Chronoshards. Ali Baboon was supposed to take back the real ones (fake ones were given the House Lords) while the battle happened, but he also took Istar's lamp as his personal prize. Now the three traitorous Djinn are all on an entirely different plane (there are nine) that Istar can't access.



#23 Eerem Palace


It takes the combined wisdom of Sandiago and Dumoozoid to access the Eerem Palace on another plane by entering a Djinni lamp within a lamp. Lampception. For as grand as it looks, it's a short location with only one mob battle then an instance with four major battles. There looks to be a grand palace off in the distance, but we can only access the courtyard and gardens during our time here.

This is the tenth mapped zone, and definitely one that lives up to expectations. It's a decent resource for reagents, having one antiquity per realm but not allowing you to change realms within the palace. It's essentially sold on its own for 1995 crowns, but is justified on the Zone Pricing page as including the rest of the Chronoverge, which translates to the final four Sands of Time dungeons.



#24 Eerkala's Sanctum


After defeating the three Djinn and the Dark Djinni Eerkala, you get to talk with her inside Eerem Gardens in her personal sanctum. This is actually a different zone within Eerem Gardens, but is unfortunately still part of the dungeon, meaning you'll have to defeat the four Djinn again if you want to spend time in this beautiful location. Eerkala reveals that she made a mistake, trading the Chronoshards to Grandfather Spider in return for the freedom of the Djinn. An admirable cause, really, even if accomplished through foul play. Unfortunately, she realizes now that Grandfather Spider will unmake the Spiral and their liberation will mean nothing.



#25 Schism Reading Room


You've defeated the Djinn, stopped the Scorpion, and united all of Mirage, but how are you supposed to turn back the Sands of Time? Not even many of the Chronomancers know, and it turns out that the Chronomaster and many members of the organization were actually Cabal agents, waiting a long time for their moment to be shepherded into the new First World (isn't going to actually happen, sorry to break it to you). While Sandiago contemplates what to do next, you must answer an urgent call from Wizard City.

Ambrose has been on the case and Mellori has been his personal assistant at Ravenwood (oh, the glory days). He's now found out more about the Cabal and sends you after Duncan Grimwater who leads you to Grettle Darkkettle, a loyal member of the Cabal who claims the Arcanum is not all it seems - and it's true! The Cabal was once part of the Arcanum before the Schism - a division of the groups with one being cast out. That's what's behind the caged door (though he can't go in... yet). You can read more on the Schism in my Ten Big Mirage Reveals post.



#26 Zruvan Grotto


Ever since around Azteca, KingsIsle has started to abandon long dungeons. In Khrysalis and Polaris, you had three-boss dungeons leading up to the final boss in its own instance, a stark contrast from the days of multi-hour Malistaire-type dungeons. Even Mirage's longer dungeons like the Zruvan Grotto aren't that long. In fact, it's only four fights. Sandiago remembers that Grandmother Raven safeguarded elements of time in a being called the Chronocle in the Timeless Tower, but he doesn't know the location. Fortunately, Chronomancer Tyrehl does.

This is the eleventh and final mapped zone, but is not sold as part of any pay wall. I think it is included with Eerem Palace - perhaps that's what they meant on the Zone Pricing page.



#27 Backward in Time


The Zruvan Grotto starts out as an old, overgrown and underground cavern in which the Timeless Tower and surrounding areas lie, but Grandfather Spider has been busy reversing the Sands of Time, causing you to be thrown backwards to a bygone era in which the guards you just fought as ghosts were just employed. You get to defeat them again, or... for the first time. The tower is no longer underground, the buildings are repaired, there's no more overgrowth, and everyone is alive instead of ghosts. Lucky for you, the tower was just established at this time and there's only one Luphilim guard unlike the trials required to access the Auroracle. 

Here you learn that Raven and Spider were lovers but the Titan War somehow put an end to that. Raven locked Spider up, but the Spiral without his presence didn't work correctly, so he literally stole his Chaos Heart and used it to charge the Spiral's essence. Ouch. More on that in my Ten Big Mirage Reveals.



#28 Calibration Chamber


The Calibration Chamber is the one instance and battle with the Chronoverge, not including the Sands of Time. It has two battles inside, one with Chronomaster Devlin who uses Dampen Magic, which can be a real surprise for wizards used to using only top-level spells. Your new four-pip shadow spells will come in handy here.

This is one of the more detailed interiors in Mirage and a room I was really fond of. For me, it was much more exciting than the Sands of Time. The Sands of Time had lots of potential with essentially being the bottom of an hourglass, and while they did improve the look with the live release, it still isn't quite as grand as so much of the rest of Mirage.

What's your favorite area in Mirage?

Thanks for reading, especially if you made it all the way through, and see you in the Spiral!

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