OK so yes, I didn't post yesterday. Very busy day, close friend got married, blah blah. As penance, I'm writing two posts today, one of which will hit the moment Cata launches. I'm sure you'll ALL come to read that right away. Anywho.
Ashenvale was a pretty strong zone in the classic days, so I feared it would be left relatively unmolested. Not true! Quest hubs have been added, a very fun introductory chain has been added in, and while the green and purple forest is mostly the same visually, there is a large volcanic lava flow mixing it up in the middle.
The zone seems like a sort of tribute to the Ashenvale of old, in ways. Veterans will likely recognize several locales, like the Dor'Danil Barrow Den, Grom Hellscream's gravesite and the surrounding demons, and Zoram'Gar Outpost, are largely the same. Though the latter got a facelift by the Orcish TV show "This Old Hub", hosted by Bob "Warsong Hold" Villa. Not the most dramatic zone change by far, but don't fix what ain't broke.
Don't think that this is your Guild Master's Ashenvale though; fresh questing abounds with the signature better flow and varied mechanics. The quests mostly take you to familiar places, but for new reasons or with renewed purpose. The premise behind Felfire Hill is not to kill demons just because, well, fuck them, but to gain a dubious source of fuel in the form of green flames. I was saddened this didn't end with me riding in a demolisher spreading Legion Flames among the NPCs (for a change!) but maybe that's asking too much.
I do have to get something off my chest, if we can speak under the Seal of the Confessional for a moment. I didn't finish Ashenvale. Not even close; I did all the quests coming out of Splintertree, and my next stop were the breadcrumbs into Stonetalon. I tried to complete Zoram'Gar, oh I really did. But I was 24 already, and the beefiest quests they had were 22. And I had skipped an entire other quest hub on the way there! The one flaw I can see with Ashenvale is that it might be too big for its own good. Even without heirloom gear I would have easily breezed through it too fast to see much of the western side of things.
Maybe this is just MY design philosophy, but the ideal flow for leveling isn't hard to figure out. If someone with no heirlooms does every quest in the zone, having come in at the appropriate level, they should gain precisely enough XP, including required kills, to get 5 levels and go to the next zone (or whatever the next zone assumes). Naturally, things like rest state, dungeoning, and non-required kills will get the player farther than this, or give them the option of skipping a few quests without breaking flow, but you get the idea.
It's then a little bit of a bummer that Ashenvale was so filled with content that will get passed up in the natural course of leveling. Maybe it should have been made five levels higher, or maybe it should have been split in two like the barrens. But this isn't really a complaint; it's always better to leave food at the table than leave the table hungry. It's not elegant, but it's fun, a little dangerous, and leads into Stonetalon Mountains (more on that later!)