Dec 10 2010

So close!


So I got home from work today to find an enticing box had been delivered… cracked open the plain cardboard outer box, tore through the wrapping, and there was my shiny Collector’s Edition Cataclysm. I fed the cat, had dinner, washed the dishes, opened the box. Began the install… installing…. installing… installing…. for about 40 minutes. Then the download started. 6.7 Gb to download? eh? I thought it would be on the disk. I expect at this point that it will take at least 4 or 6 hours. So close, and yet so far!

I haven’t logged in since Cata was released. Call it superstition, but I wanted to wait until I had the product installed, and was happy to wait until the first few days of release-day frenzy had passed. So on the weekend before it dropped, I dinked around with a bit of this and a bit of that. I rolled a fresh gnome to have a look at the new starting content, and had a blast – the music and ambience are great fun, and there’s a nice feel to the whole thing. Highly recommended. And I took Belmann off to have a look at some of the sights, and to run a last WoTLK heroic dungeon just for old time’s sake. And I was a Very Naughty Healer.

Even right to the end there were egregious twits. I guess we are forever stuck with them. This one was a mage. We zoned into Utgarde Pinnacle, with a mix of seriously over-geared players and two reasonably-geared alts. Somebody was after the Incredible Hulk achievement, so we tackled that. Easy enough, but the mage kept complaining about how he was doing all the work, and carrying the group, and constantly topping the DPS meters. We got through the achievement trivially, and continued powering on. And he kept on, and on, and on complaining about how he was doing all the work. So when we got to the last boss and he once again pulled aggro off the (very patient and long suffering, not to mention competent) tank… I let him do all the work of healing himself too. I wish blizzard would put in a mechanic whereby dead players in pugs couldn’t keep talking. The other three players appreciated it though.

There was a fitting and shiny end to the run though – one of the last trash mobs dropped the Super Simian Sphere, so I spent the last 15 minutes of wrath as a big white gorilla inside a glowing purple bubble, rampaging around Dalaran for the amusement of all.

Dec 4 2010

Who’s Your Daddy?


I took Hannarrgh the combat rogue through the chains of quests in Westfall today, and they are awesome – they are fantastically designed to lead you up to and into the Deadmines, introduce a context and background for the instance, teach you the route through the mines to the instance, and tell a great story. The story is, for those of you living under rocks, that Van Cleef had a daughter who witnessed his callous slaughter at the hands of 5 adventurers some 5 years ago… and now she is all grown up, not particularly stable, and really pissed.

The instance layout is unchanged, but the content is radically different. It turns out that players at level can get through it without the endless wipes of the original version, and it’s significantly faster to run. A fun aspect of the instance is that there’s a variety of new mechanics to take advantage of, and to deal with. I won’t go through the boss fights, since they’ll be documented and described all over the place, but two things to look out for:

1) the cannon early in the instance (and late as well) can be used to deal with trash, throwing down a very powerful AOE attack;
2) don’t kill the monkeys – click on their ball-and-chain to release them, and they will help you take down the trash.

Now, the less pleasant part of the first run through, and a taste of things to come. The instance was not hugely difficult, but not a push over either. And it’s definitely not somewhere for baby tanks to barge through the way we’ve gotten used to seeing in Wrath. The first tank we had died four times, then rage quit after telling everyone else that we sucked. Actually, that’s not quite what he said, but this is a PG blog. The next tank did much better, and tried to slow down, but there was still way too much rushing going on, and on every pull mobs were running everywhere. We got through because of a combination of blind luck and a good healer.

I’m going to run it again though, and try to get people to slow down and enjoy it – the easter eggs in the instance are delicious, and quite funny.

Dec 4 2010

Deathwing ate my teddy bear.


On the other hand he also bought me Withers and a singing sunflower, making him sort of giant fire-breathing bi-polar Father Christmas, bringing stuffing stockers to good dwarves and lumps of coal to miners.

My active character set is neatly bifurcated, if we leave aside my mopey level 70 bank alt: three level 80s, three leveling characters. The nice thing about this is that I realized last night that my Cataclysm experience is going to be similarly bifurcated: my intention is to level the three 80s in parallel (which of course will take longer), spreading them across as many different zones as I can (although Belmann will probably still do almost everything there is to do); and to level the other three characters in different zones (if possible).

It’s this latter part that has been great fun since the world got broken apart and rewritten. I spent a few hours with Belmann running around looking at things and saying “oooh, that’s shiny and new”, then sent the three low level characters off in different directions, hopefully to take different paths to level 60. And straight up, I’m going to say that Blizzard have done a superb job of preparing content and zones to make the progress from 1 to 60 smooth and fast while still being engaging.

I nipped off to WoWWiki to find out the new zone/level matrix, and was excited to see that Glymly the hunter could head off to the redesigned Eastern/Western Plaguelands, Maarisuu the baby tank could go to a freshly submerged Thousand Needles, and Hanaarrgh the rogue (yes, my secret project is to try a rogue again) could continue in Westfall – exciting for all three because I knew that they’d redesigned all zones. And boy, have they ever redesigned. At a simplistic level, I am loving the sense of the old world having advanced about 8 years, and the references from the new content back to the old versions filled with humour that is often only going to make sense to players who started with Vanilla – a whole new world of easter eggs just for us.

Western Plaguelands was probably just under Glymly’s level, and I think that he started in the middle of various questlines before being shunted off to Eastern Plaguelands quickly. WPL has been radically overhauled, thematically, and most of it has either been reforested, or is being reforested, with quests that carry through the theme of various forces working to rehabilitate the zone now that the Scourge has been defeated. He entered EPL with a bread-crumb quest to find a (worgen) NPC at the border of the zone. That NPC set him off for a couple of quick quests due north and south along the river, then invited him to climb on her peddler’s wagon to drive to the next quest hub. He’s finished most of the quests there (hey, alliance has finally secured at least one of the towers, and built a permanent base there), and presumably will get bread-crumbed along to the next hub. There are two aspects for me that highlight just how much effort and careful planning has gone into content that a lot of players will just grind through as quickly as possible: they have put in a *lot* of new flight points, eliminating virtually all of the horribly slow travel that characterised Vanilla, and thus speeding up the levelling process; and the quests have been carefully designed to provide a logical flow of development (both of plot and character).

Maarisuu had a similar experience in the new, and quite lovely, Thousand Needles – an initial quest sent her to a staging point in Feralas, which in turn sent her to Waterworld to visit Kevin Costner. I mean, to the floating barge above the submerged race ways. There was a superb set of quests that logically and quickly carried her through three apparently divergent chains in three different areas, along with a handful to introduce the mechanics required for dealing with the watery environment, leading up to a final quest that sent her on to Gadgetzan. Naturally the physical changes in Thousand Needles are spectacularly noticeable, but the more subtle changes in the world were most intriguing – as an Alliance character she’s not privy to the internal changes for the Taurens, but is still given an insight into them as she reclaims ground from the Bad Cows, and then was duped into aiding the machinations of Mama Bad Cow. Similarly the rivalry between gnomes and goblins has been raised to the point of fisticuffs… while at the same time goblin and gnome children play games all over the barge. For my money this region, so far, is the one that shows off most clearly how tight (and deep) the writing has become, and how much thought has gone into ensuring that players don’t spend their time killing ten rats.

Not that the quests that Hannarrgh faced in Westfall did not encompass new versions of the old low-drop kill-ten-rats quests. The distinction now is that it appears that these quests in low-level zones have 100% drop rate on quest items. It may have taken 6 years, but Blizzard finally seemed to have accepted that low-drop quests inspire a player to homicide, not a sense of epic grandeur. The changes in Westfall are particularly poignant and interesting – a large population of refugees, a build up of the military presence and facilities in the center of the zone, and an obvious issue with an expanding gnoll population. It was only today that I realised that she’s at the right level to venture into the revamped Deadmines instance, and I’ll take her there at the earliest opportunity. I’m guessing that there will be some sort of bread-crumb quest chain to take her down there, and am given to understand that the instance quests are sourced inside the instance, or inside the instance entrance zone.

I’ve noticed that there is a fair bit of complaint in the blogosphere about the jump in timelines in the old world. I know that I was surprised to see it when I first logged in, but on reflection I believe it’s the only way that Blizzard could have handled the scope of the changes they wanted – and needed – to make. It was suggested in a few places that they could have phased the changes in over a period of time. Yes, it would have been technically feasible, but I think the reality is that to have done so they would have had to release 4.0.x, then spend at least six months rolling out nothing but content patches to advance the story before releasing the expansion. The player base, and the shareholders, would not have accepted that. Similarly they would not have accepted an expansion that did not have accepted an expansion without the magnitude of content changes now in place. Yes, there’s going to be some odd discontinuities in timeline – level 60-ish characters will have a weird jump back in time to deal (briefly) with Illidan’s homeboys in Outlands, then spend six or eight levels dealing with the Scourge again. Similarly new worgens and goblins will have a strange discontinuity between starting zones that are timed around the time of the Cataclysm and the broader world which will be eight-odd years later. At least Blizzard have acknowledged these issues, and have indicated a desire to do something about the Outlands and Northrend discontinuties, without committing to dealing with a really tough problem. I suspect the long term solution may be to reforge the story line for those expansions to be dealing with forces that have arisen post-cataclysm (somehow). Or maybe just say “you travel back in time, deal with it”.

In summary, some ridiculuous number of lines later – I approve. The post-shattering world is awesome.