Sunday, December 5, 2010

Zone Review: Ashenvale (H)

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!)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dungeon Review: Deadmines and Ragefire Chasm

Before they nerfed dungeon XP, it was very easy to get a level or more in even a short run, so I ended up kinda out-leveling the Northern Barrens. I'm not complaining, NB was a fairly bland zone with not enough changed for me to really be gripped by it. Now that dungeon xp has been nerfed to garbage, there's even less reason to subject one's sanity to the rampant bigotry and impatience that comprise the vocal minority of the LfG system. Still, if you have a premade group, or are desperate for human contact, however abrasive, here's some words on the two lowbie dungeons.

Deadmines has the same layout, but totally retooled bosses and mechanics. It actually felt like a real instance, with bosses actually having distinct mechanics and interesting flavor. It also uses the new ability for quests to resolve in the field, which I quite like. It also works a Worgen in as the penultimate boss encounter, incorporating their existence into the early lore and helping to make them feel like a proper part of the world. Something the last Alliance race could have used, to be sure.

RFC is by contrast largely unchanged. The same bosses, same trash, and even the same end spot for the LFG tool, one boss short. The mobs have been moved around a bit, and in some places thinned, but every encounter is more or less a tank and spank. Though Oggleflint's cleave served a rude introduction to THAT particular mechanic for all DPS involved in my run.

I want to stop and say a brief word about group pulls in these early dungeons. To DPS, please realize that tanks don't have all their abilities to generate AoE threat yet, and if a skull gets put over something, it's probably for good reason. That said, holy shit druid is fucked up in this regard. These two dungeons both have unavoidable three and four mob pulls, and while Paladins get Avenger's Shield for being prot and warriors have had Thunder Clap for a good six levels, druids have NOTHING to generate AoE threat at all until swipe at 36. Thirty freaking six! How are we supposed to keep four mobs off a healer? Demoralizing Roar? I know mobs deal little enough damage at this level that one can go stray and it's no big, but it's profoundly frustrating as someone who's tanked big kid content to have a half-empty toolbox for doing this low level shit.

SO ANYWAY, both dungeons are fine, with a nod to Deadmines for interesting boss fights. Well, as interesting as level 15 can get anyway. The dungeon XP nerf went way overboard and now dungeoning is vastly inferior to soloing, so I can't really recommend doing any dungeon more than once. It's very disappointing that Blizzard effectively eliminated dungeoning as a viable alternative to questing in this way; even with a premade, it would be faster (and far less repetitive) to do solo quests. I know Blizzard wants to show off the new zones and quest flow, but come on, the option would have been nice.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Zone Review: Durotar (H)

Aah Durotar, so long the butt of collective jokes. Historically the worst place for a beginning hordie to level up, it featured very dull quests, a huge number of beast killing quests, and lead into the equally-bereft Barrens. How times have changed.

First of all, the troll starting zone in fantastic fun. Early quests get players acquainted with their basic abilities before even facing off against a single mob, then against neutral animals, then against aggressive and differentiated enemies. You even get a side kick for a quest, to show the power of grouping and to help the uninitiated with accidental huge pulls. Orc starting zone is a comparatively blah, resembling more strongly the Durotar of old. Still, the quests are proficient, mobs are more populous, and the fan favorite whack-a-peon is still around.

Razor Hill also brings some fun quests, the crowning jewel of which is the flooded area in the west. You climb a guard tower, survey the land for Horde citizens in need of aid, and are given a large meta-quest to complete all their quests. It almost feels like Assassin's Creed: ascending to a perch, seeing the people in need, and then aiding them for fun and profit.

Other high points include an old favorite target of Durotar levelers having drowned in the flood, slaying several champion warriors, and acting out a play. An old shaman tells you a parable complete with anthropomorphic metaphors and a wise moral at the end, with you controlling a wolf and acting out the protagonist's part. It's totally out of left field, and totally awesome. It also introduces the concept of vehicles (the idea that you control something other than your character in WoW) without any stress or time limit. Perfect for beginners!

I haven't played the other starting areas (I hear undead have a lot of good shit going down) but you couldn't go wrong with Durotar. It also connects you to Orgrimmar, the central city of the Horde. I suspect, and I never thought I'd say this, that Blood Elves will be running from Eversong to get the Troll starting experience. How delightfully ridiculous!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prolegomena to Any Future Altoholics

I find myself in an odd circumstance. I haven't posted in the last month, as an astute reader can probably figure out by the lack of a 'November' under 2010 at the right. Which isn't entirely unjustified; I've been on WoW vacation after beating the Lich King and becoming Buffslayer Supreme of Nocturne. Combine that with a utter lack of anything to do in WoW besides hardmode ICC (if I never see Marrowgar again it will be too soon) and my last GOOD post was in September, and it sent me into a spiral of not-giving-a-damn.

So I haven't written in a while, mainly because of a lack of things to do or get motivated to talk about; suddenly, 4.0.3a comes in like a masked hero to a burning building (analogy not perfect: fire is exciting) and I'm spoiled for choice. Do I talk about the re-vamped dungeons? The new quest flow? Preparations for Cataclysm? WHAT DO I DO??????

Breath. Count to 10. Yes, there is a lot to do and see. Too much to sum up in two or three articles, even ones as long winded and pedagogic as those found on this site. So here's my pledge: EVERY DAY until Cataclysm, and at some slower, regular pace after that, I will be posting a review of a zone, dungeon, or other piece of new content, with the review slanted toward a veteran player. Everything is like some weird episode of the Twilight Zone, where a lone man staggers sweatily though a familiar but foreign landscape, every sight recognizable but strange. It will be short and sweet, and hopefully lead to most excellent memories for all involved.

But as a prologue to all that, here are some recommendations specifically to us veterans. Whether you remember when Dire Maul was new, or a time when you had to walk in Outland, or even when you could forget to receive your Badges from not looting, here's some tips to make your re-discovery of Azeroth a good one.

You are not leveling too fast. Even without heirloom gear, it's not hard to out-level zones. That's a good thing; a year from now, when a certain mouthy Dragon Aspect lies 'neath your mighty boot, you'll need something to entertain you with. You'll be glad you didn't need to use up every quest in the land rushing poor Rofldotsjr to 60.

Do not do everything at once. Don't sweat it even: you are under no obligation to see every single piece of content ever on a single toon in the two weeks before Cata officially hits. Ask yourself, am I enjoying this quest line/dungeon/gameplay purely for its lore and execution? If not, hearth to Org and go where Hellscream tells you. You can get to 60 on a SINGLE CONTINENT. Meaning there's enough content to level two characters to Outland and never do a single overlapping quest. Rejoice.

Play an alt. A lot of the tuning, especially to dungeons, will be lost because everything in LBRS still dies to a single crit of Shadowmourne's mighty blade. Other small details, like a swim speed boost, is huge to a lowbie while irrelevant to your main with a turtle mount. Flying and archaeology are such amazingly good reasons to see the changes over time on a main, all the better to wait and adopt a set of fresh eyes for the quests and dungeons.

Enjoy the journey. This is the Golden Rule of Leveling to me. WoW, or any MMO, or even any game, is not a race to max level to start grinding heroics. Stop and read quest text. Do some green quests to see the end of a chain (a fair number of quests now have really impressive endings). That might sound contradictory to previous statements, but leveling is all about flow. Getting lost in the game world. So don't worry about far away goals or catching up to some arbitrary number or hitting all the "must see" quests; focus on seeing what's over that next hill. I guarantee you'll have more fun.