I have recently been levelling my first Draenei, and I can tell you, I've really enjoyed the experience: it's completely different to my previous experiences in the old world.
Firstly, the low-level experience is set at a particular point in time: just after the shaceship "the Exodar" crashed on an island off Kalimdor. Your tasks are all centred around the immediate aftermath of this event, as you try to help fellow victims of the crash, and repair the damage caused to the land you crashed in. You quickly discover that you've been followed to this world by your enemies, the Blood Elves, and you make first contact with some of the other species in your new world. The story is told immersively and you just can't stop playing, so much do you want to get to the next episode.
In contrast, all the WoW vanilla starting zones are set in a fairly timeless period, and the quests are more concerned with teaching you the mechanics of controlling you character, rather than immersion. So it's kill ten kobolds in Northshire and steal their candles. For no good reason other than that somebody asked you to.
So I really enjoyed the work I did on behalf of my fellow Draenei on Azuremyst Isle and Bloodmyst Isle. The first jarring moment in this immersion came when I reached the Exodar itself. There, Draenei commoners were celebrating Brewfest! What? How did we get involved in Brewfest? Did we meet the dwarves? I only just made first contact with our nearest neighbours, the night-elves, along with an expeditionary naval force from Stormwind.
Never mind. That was just unfortunate timing. I found a ship that took me to Darkshore and continued my explorations there.
When I started a night-elf, long ago, I found Teldrassil (once out of the starting zone) to be quite an immersive place, also. Plenty of good stories to be a part of, and not all of them involved killing ten rats. The night-elf quests in Darkshore and Ashenvale continue in this vein, and are among the best stories in Azeroth, even if there is quite a bit of Naga bashing and Murloc murdering involved. But the night the music died for me was the night I was given a quest in Blackfathom Deeps.
It is no longer possible to gather a group to go to Blackfathom Deeps simply by asking players around Astranaar and Ashenvale. They look at you as if you had two heads. A knowing smile crosses their face, the word "noob" forms at the back of their mind, and they tell you to use the dungeon finder. Another crack in my immersive experience.
So I did. I queued up for a random dungeon and found myself in the Deadmines. What the?! How did I get here? I wrote before about the gripping story of the Defias Brotherhood that leads up to the killing of Edwin van Cleef. What a sorry, half-baked version of that story my draenei met. Why on earth would he want to kill these miners, those goblins, yonder pirates and the various other denizens of the Deadmines that he met? What a horrible, horrible experience it was to be in the Deadmines without having been through the quests leading up to it. I thank the light that I at least experienced the world of Warcraft before the introduction of the Dungeon Finder. Boy, it isn't even a year old, at this point, but it has irrevocably changed the way we experience the world.
I remember how it used to be, how difficult it could be to get together a group, and I can see all the advantages there are to using it; I remember trade full of desparate requests of "LFM UK normal" and so on. All the same, Dungeon Finder as it currently stands completely breaks the immersiveness of the questing experience. I understand why Blizzard did what they did when creating the Dungeon Finder: they had already tried to fix the problem of putting together groups a couple of times, and each time it had failed, for various reasons. This time, they threw in everything they could think of, to give it every chance of succeeding. And succeed it did! Now it is almost the only way people do 5-man instances (I would hazard a guess that more people solo instances than put together a 5-man team without using the Dungeon Finder).
How could it be fixed?
Well, as I said, Blizzard threw everything that they could at it, in the hopes of making it a success where they had previously met with failure. Unfortunately, their over-egging of this particular pudding has been the cause of its problems (which are problems of success, not problems of failure, let's remember). Now that Dungeon Finder is well established, perhaps its time to remove some of the eggs from the pudding.
- One idea would be not to queue you for instances that you haven't yet found the entrance to, or at least the summoning stone of. I think this must be foremost in re-establishing immersion.
- Only form groups with people of your own realm, or at least give you the option of only queuing with people from your realm.
- Drop you and your group at the summoning stone for the instance, not in the instance itself (I know this might cause problems with cross-realm parties, but they are not insurmountable).
- Do nothing except create the group. After all, the problems people previously had was simply in getting a group together at all. It could previously take half an hour of barking in the trade channel to do it (how little the LFG channel was used!). Just form the group, and let the members take it from there.
- Remove the free emblems or satchel of helpful goods. There should be life outside of instances as well!
- You don't really want people entering the instance for the first time to be doing it with people doing it for the hundredth time. That takes all the magic out of it for the first timers.
I'm sure you have better ideas than me. I'd love for Blizzard to think about them.