Thursday, December 16, 2010

Uldum and Level 85

I finished Uldum last night. Pushed through the last of the new desert zone's quests and stayed up about an hour later than I should have. Though it's billed as having less quests than Hyjal or Vashj'ir, I feel like it took longer. Particularly the tail end of the Harrison Jones fork goes slower because you end up doing one quest at a time instead of a two or three at once.

Unlike the other zones, after the initial set of quests and introduction to the main zone hub, the plot largely forks, and surprisingly enough does not come back together again. I found I really liked that, because I could bounce back and forth between storylines. If I ever got tired of one I could vacation in the other, and I did.

The two prongs of the Uldum storyline are the civil war of the Ramhaken, the new race of centaur-like cat people, and the adventures of Harrison Jones. Both are good, though the Harrison Jones branch has some (expected) groan-worthy moments.

Overall I don't think either storyline is as strong as Deepholm or Vashj'ir. Though Deathwing's reach is apparent, the fate of Uldum does not feel like it will help or harm Azeroth as much as other zones. But having choice goes a long way taking away the railroad feel, and Uldum wins points for that.

It also won a lot of points with me for its opening scenario, which involves a couple good laughs as first my character gets slighted by a camel and then witnesses a silly (but apparently effective) escape plan as set forth by Budd.

Uldum is quite possibly the most cut scene rich zone in the game, and by a long shot. Whether or not you like cut scenes may affect your opinion of the zone, but I viewed it as a positive. Amazingly enough, there is one cut scene where your character speaks! It's just a brief one word of protest, but prior to this I've seen very little said that wasn't obviously a scream of pain or some sort of scripted proclamation. It was almost a conversation... almost... in that it felt very natural.

So natural it stuck out because our characters so rarely interact in what should be dialogue.

A portion of the Harrison Jones quest chest is obviously a sendup of the Nazis in the Indiana Jones movies, but I have to wonder if there's a World War II buff on the Blizzard team since I may or may not have been reading too deeply into the quest to capture the Desert Fox and Schnottz's turkey henchman Gobbles. (The Desert Fox being the German WWII general Erwin Rommel, and the Gobbles referring to Joseph Goebbels, Hilter's minister of propogada.)

The Ramhaken storyline, while involving mobilizing a nation to go to war, and even some RTS elements, doesn't strike me as being quite as memorable. I like the Egyptian theme the Ramhaken have going for them, but their storyline isn't as powerful. Even though there is an NPC who is killed that the player could have felt connection to, his last battle and mortal wounding happens off camera, which robs the player of feeling any anger at his death. I could see less observent players not even recognizing that an NPC they met earlier in the zone is now dead by the time they finish.

By the time I finished a little over half the quests in Uldum I dinged 85. I'm terribly undergeared and won't be able to start heroics just yet, but that's okay. I intend to finish Twilight Highlands before I get serious about them, but I'll probably queue for the normal Lost City of Tol'vir and Halls of Origination tonight.

Oh, and one more thing... If you're one of those people who just really likes punting gnomes... even if you're a gnome who likes punting gnomes... there is the gnome mashing quest to end all gnome mashing quests in Uldum. Seriously.

Monday, December 13, 2010

More Cata Impressions - Now At Level 84

Now that it's been almost a week, it seems I've had the time to get a better feel for this expansion.

Overall, questing is much more linear. It's not just Hyjal. There is sometimes a little variation in which order quests can be done, but it seems like some 90-95% of the quests out there are required in order to finish a zone's storyline. This makes it easy to get the questing achievements, but then I'm not sure how easy it is to skip ahead in a zone if there's a quest chain you just really don't want to do again, or you just want to do the "highlights" on an alt.

Hyjal did end better than it started, with more epic moments as the story wore on, though I don't think it ever really got away from the railroad feel. I loved Tortolla the turtle Ancient and hearing the story of how he'd held the line against the Burning Legion and never actually fell. When they dug him out after the battle he simply asked if they had won. Truly a good turtle to hold such a defense. I wanted to give him a big hug. Being able to fight alongside him was more rewarding than with any other Ancient.

The zone definitely has its moments, but I think overall it's been my least favorite of the new 80-85 zones. It's not just the linearity, but I felt there was too much time feeling like peon rather than a great war hero. Even the final quest line, which by rights should have been epic, wasn't as impressive as it was when we'd originally seen the villain. I just expected more chaos, more desperation, and I wasn't getting it.

Also, I thought it was kind of silly that the Guardians of Hyjal all appeared to be druids, but you'd see their forces standing out in the fields in caster form with weapons. It would have been cooler to see an army of cat, bear, and moonkin druids holding the line against enemy forces.

I ended Hyjal at level 82 using barely any rested XP. On future runs with alts I imagine I'll finish at level 83. While this isn't so much a problem with Hyjal, it could be with Vashj'ir.

You see, it's necessary to discover portal entrances in order to do instances in Cata. It's not so different from the pre-dungeon finder days, where after getting a bundle of quests a player might seek out the instance in which they can be complete.

But Vashj'ir is so huge that I dinged level 83, the maximum level a player can still run normal Throne of the Tides (the instance associated with Vashj'ir), before I finished the zone. Granted, I did Vashj'ir after Hyjal, but I also did it running on a minimum of rested XP since I was playing everyday. If I'd been on an alt running completely off of rested XP, would it be possible for me to level out of ToT doing Vashj'ir alone?

It's a discomforting thought, considering that the breadcrumb to go into ToT only appears at the very end of the zone's quest line.

Sure, you can go in beforehand, but you won't be able to do any of the quests. One of my guildies finished Vashj'ir at level 84. He won't be doing the Throne of the Tides quests until he comes back in heroic. Not that he'll never see ToT again, because he undoubtably will, but it's not conducive towards a smooth leveling experience.

Aside from that, Vashj'ir turned out to be much better than I expected considering it's an underwater zone. The speed boost from Sea Legs does apply to aquatic form, so if you're a druid it's quite pleasant coasting about as a seal for short distances. I really only busted my seahorse out for travel that I expected would take a minute or more. Anything else was just my seal form splashing about.

The first part of Vashj'ir isn't much on the wow factor, but once you get to the Shimmering Expanse, the second third of the zone, does it ever get pretty! And the questing gets more interesting. As other bloggers have mentioned, the Battlemaiden storyline is fantastic, and the climax simply awe-inspiring.

And in the third part of the zone, there's a lot of desolation but also an extremely fun moment of insanity. I won't spoil it, but you'll probably know what I'm talking about when it happens to you, if you haven't had it happen already. And don't forget, if you enjoyed all the running and screaming, you can do it as many times as you like until you finally turn the quest in. I took a screenshot to immortalize the moment.

My third zone of the week was Deepholm. I could have skipped ahead to Uldum, but I want to do all the zones in order, and Deepholm turned out to be quite fun as well. Though it also has a very strong storyline, it doesn't feel quite as linear as the previous two zones, because there are at least a couple points where it's possible to go to a choice of different areas before coming back and resuming the main storyline.

I was a bit disappointed though that if you killed the princess in Maraudon that Therazane doesn't say something to you. She mentions her daughter's death, but apparently has no clue who did it or that the killer is standing in front of her. Or perhaps our characters are just smart enough to keep their mouths shut.

Still, I liked questing and doing favors for rock elementals more than I thought I would, and I felt more like I was going after the brains of the Twilight Cultists in Deepholm than I had in Hyjal. There's also the most adorable little rock elemental called Pebble that you can meet in Deepholm. When I first saw him I wanted to keep him for a pet. Alas, it was not to be. But I can visit him at least!

The finale of Deepholm is probably my favorite of the three zones so far. Hyjal didn't feel epic enough. Vashj'ir was fun, but a little overwrought and buggy besides. But Deepholm had a good climax. I liked it and it really felt like the job was done. I could happily go back to questing elsewhere.

Last night I just barely started Uldum. I've heard it described as the zone of cinematics, and perhaps it is, but I haven't been disappointed by them so far. I got a good chuckle out of my introduction to the zone and if the rest of Uldum's like that, I'm gonna like it!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mount Hyjal Antics

Like quite a few people (quite possibly a few million people) I launched into the bright new world of Cataclysm on Tuesday. I didn't get into the game until well into the evening, but finished about half the quests in Mount Hyjal, one of the two starting areas of Cataclysm.

I picked Mount Hyjal over Vashj'ir simply because I'm a druid. Why wouldn't I want to go hang out where all the other druids are?

It feels like a very linear zone, where the player moves from quest hub to quest hub. While it always makes sense, I feel more boxed in than I did in WotLK. It's possible to explore off the beaten path, but I don't feel encouraged to explore. Instead I have the feeling that if I just follow the quests like a trail of breadcrumbs I'll see everything that there is to see.

It's nice, but takes some of the fun out of the exploration bit.

There is a very nice breadcrumb to the new Blackrock Caverns instance though, complete with mole machine that lets you discover the portal to the new instance without having to trek all the way to Searing Gorge to do it! On the other hand, wasn't the point of having to discover the portals so that people don't get lost trying to find their way back to the graveyard? I honestly wouldn't know how to get to the new BRC outside of the mole machine if I ever died!

Hyjal has a lot of plot and lore though, including ever funny moments that can only be had as a moonkin druid. (And if you're afraid of spoilers in the first half of Hyjal, you may want to stop reading here.)

Ferals get forced out of their forms to avoid such silliness as cats riding horses and other such nonsense when a quest calls for mounting up or riding vehicles. But moonkin? Nah...

It's perfectly natural for a moonkin to be riding a giant wolf, right?

But the best part of my night was yet to come. As part of a hero's duty, one of the quests in the first part of Hyjal is to take command of the Eye of Twilight, which gives orders to some rather dim-witted Twilight Cultists. Through a series of events, your character does exactly that, and you're treated to a very nice graphic of your character hovering above the eye and giving instructions to those obedient peons.

Even if... you are currently a moonkin...

I did mention those cultists are dim-witted, right?

I'm hoping the storyline gets more interesting later on. I know it's kind of odd to think about story in an MMO, but I feel like Hyjal is swimming in so much lore that it could benefit from a little more structure, and not the quest design kind. WotLK had some nice moments where a very personal story was told among all the lore, and I haven't found that yet.

The Ancient Lo'Gosh came back into the world through my efforts, but I didn't feel like "All right! I did something really cool!" Replace him with a minor wolf spirit and the quest chain could have been done in Ashenvale.

Epic characters call for a epic quest with an epic story.