Friday, 10 December 2010

The Beginning of a Longer Journey

I got to level 85 last night, which was quite a short journey; so now the job of gearing up begins. The levelling journey was fun: I chose Mt. Hyjal as my level 80 - level 82 zone, and on opening night, the zone was packed with adventurers - and their bones: the circle of bleached bones around Baron Geddon shows that many adventurers weren't listening to Galrond of the Claw, when he told us not to stand in the fire!

Being with so many adventurers, all corpse-camping quest mobs, was not good for immersion; and neither was the spawn rate of mobs. I know Blizzard wanted to cater for the rush; but it's not very immersive, after killing a boss and while still looting him, to be smacked on the head by the very same boss whose corpse is supposedly at my feet! I hope that after the initial flood, Blizzard can reduce the spawn rate; but I doubt they will, as this sort of thing happened to a lesser extent in Northrend, too - and I arrived there well after the initial flood had subsided.

Mt. Hyjal was okay. Oh, I didn't dislike it, but there was no wow factor. It played as if it had been designed in 2004 (despite the phasing, it could have been Darkshore). Deepholm was fine, very like an underground Hellfire Peninsula, or Blade's Edge Mountains; but for me the glory of the levelling zones was Uldum. Firstly, the visuals were great: the world was both beautiful and convincing (the graphics reminded me of Ulduar - I wonder if it was the same team)? Second, the storytelling was excellent, with two main storylines: the fight between the Ramkahen and their Neferset neighbours was epic, and could easily have spanned more than one zone; and the story of Harrison Jones racing with Commander Schnottz to uncover the secrets of the Titans was engaging. One niggle I have is that the world of Indiana Jones is not really the World of Warcraft, no matter how good the storyline is. Sure an attempt was made to tie the two together, with Brann Bronzebeard's Deus ex Machina appearance at the end; but it still doesn't gel. All the same it was a great story, and I loved seeing it.


I'm afraid there were several jolts to immersion in this release; the main cause was phasing, and the limits of this technology are apparent. The more Blizzard use phasing to tell a story, the more we as players are forced to go around the funfair in the order Blizzard tells us: get out of phase with the questgivers and things go rapidly downhill. So you have to do the quests in the order Blizzard wants you to, and no other order is really certain to work. I'm not talking about quest chains here, where one quest does not become available until the previous quest in the chain had been completed. I'm talking about interference from other storylines that might move you to a phase where the first quest chain becomes impossible to complete (because items you need are not in the new phase). Each phase added complicates both design and testing immensely. Where Blizzard carry it off, phasing is great for giving you the impression of changing the world. But the more phases added, the more the interconnections between different phases, the greater the chance to get it wrong, and this release has shown a number of phasing problems already (for instance, try following the breadcrumb quest in Stormwind (Rallying the Fleet) that takes you to the Twilight Highlands, while you still have Call of Duty in your quest log - Supply Sergeant Graves is in a different phase! Worse, it has prevented you, the adventurer, from wandering off the path, and doing your own thing. I wandered into both Uldum and the Twilight Highlands initially without following the breadcrumb quests for both. Let me tell you, that is an eerie experience! So paradoxically, the phasing feature, which was designed to give you the impression that you were controlling or influencing what went on in the world, left me with the impression of less control. I never felt more like a passenger.

One last thing. Blizzard told us that in Cataclysm we'd find the mobs a lot tougher than in Wrath of the Lich King - they were going to beef them up, make them less of a pushover. Well, from my experience, this is not true, at least in Mt. Hyjal, Uldum and the Twilight Highlands. Sure the mobs have more power, but so do we adventurers; and I still found myself able to kill mobs with 3 or 4 shots, usually before they managed to lay a finger on me (thanks to two great mage talents: Nether Vortex) and Incanter's Absorption. One or two of the bosses made me get out my mirror images to tank for me, but none of the fights were taxing. In fact in some cases, Blizzard already provides tanking NPCs for us. The instances certainly are different, however, and I appreciate that. It is very easy in the Stonecore, for instance, to overpull, and crowd control is a necessity again. I am looking forward to gearing up and trying the raids.

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