Losing your tail

28th December 2010 – 5.08 pm

I have been drawn back to Azeroth, partly because of the cataclysmic changes to the landscape, and partly because of the introduction of the worgen race. Draenei are interesting in being an ungulate, but an anthropomorphic wolf appeals much more to the furry in me. It is a little disappointing, then, to find that the worgen don't have tails. At least, none that is visible over clothing, which even the draenei tailors manage to achieve. The elves even mock the tailless wolves in a quest, playing on the dual meaning of the word. But it's still pretty cool to be animalistic without cloven feet.

The starting area for the worgen is much to be expected after the radical overhauls of the previous two expansions. Phasing is used to good effect again, much like it is with the death knights, and a story is imparted to the character in the same way. You are not so much introduced to the game as you are to your race's heritage, which was barely a feature of the original starting zones. Following the plight of Gilneas, turning in to a worgen, being overrun by undead, and seeing the world collapse is all brought vividly to life by the quests and changing landscapes. But it isn't quite as slick as it appears.

There are several times when your character needs to get from point A to point B, and they are far enough apart that the game design throws you on a horse or carriage and transits you between the points. You have no control over your actions and no option but to sit back and wait until the necessary scene has unfolded. It's not particularly heroic to be nothing more than an observer, and being shuffled between areas in such a way can highlight the entirely linear nature of your adventure. And that's essentially the problem with the phasing too.

One of the problems with a massively multiplayer game is how to enable players to affect the world. You can't have bosses killed for good, as no one else can then defeat them. You can't change the scenery, because that denies anyone else doing the same. But phasing overcomes this by allowing everyone to achieve the same effects without affecting anyone else. But the problem is that it becomes not only linear but also necessary to generate the achievement. There is nowhere to go in the worgen starting zone except where the current quest tells you to go, and phasing means there is no way to escape it except by completing the quest. It is empowering to think you are the cause of the landscape-altering event, but emasculating to realise that it could happen no other way.

Whilst other starting zones clearly expect players to pick up every quest and complete them, tailored to getting the character to a certain level before shuffling them out to the next zone, at least they can be escaped. Not that I tried, but it seems that once you have chosen worgen you need to complete nearly all of the worgen quests before you can leave the starting zone. You seem to play a pivotal role in helping your fellows, but ultimately you have no choice. Phasing is as much of a restriction as a freedom, preventing progress by forcing choices.

At least there is a decent mix of quest types. There are many occasions where I have one quest to complete before moving on to the next, each one critical in imparting the story, but there are collection quests, vehicle quests, rounding-up quests, and a stealth quest. Many of the game mechanics are presented early and neatly, although it is difficult to gauge their effectiveness when I am already familiar with most of what is sought to be achieved. There was an issue with the final quest chain, where the NPC kept telling me to wait for others to arrive before we started, which may be fine in a new and busy zone, but I was waiting for a few minutes before the quest would even start. I don't know what that will be like in a month's time, but I hope the quest will start with just one player ready, because it doesn't look like you can move from the zone without completing it.

The other problem I have with this strictly linear nature is the lack of option to take a break. You are thrown from one location to another, told to help these people and those, and before you know it you're moving on again. Of course, there are safe places to sit, notably around the NPC quest givers, but there are precious few places where it feels appropriate. Maybe I was just keen to continue the story, or gain that next level, but I think I was just pushing to find the actual settlement where I could park my hairy bum and feel like I belonged, rather than remaining an outcast trying to liberate my home. And, at the end of it all, I find myself sent to elfland, my least favourite zone to quest in.

Ultimately, I think I still prefer the death knight starting zone so far, having not looked at the other new ones yet. The story is just as strong, the phasing is equally dramatic, and there is a clear base of operations available to retreat to for a break. The lightning progress of the death knight also helps, though. But the worgen starting zone is definitely good, and certainly progress. And by starting a new character I am also experiencing many new features of the levelling system, including the revamped talent trees. It is almost like I am learning it all from scratch, which is probably good. I have assumptions that I need to ignore, like being able to control my demon from first level, as it is now an ability learnt at tenth; or gaining a talent point every level after ninth. There are just so many changes to the game that it feels new, but with a familiar interface.

And this is why I am currently avoiding my previously level-capped warrior and death knight, as the prospect of working out all of their talent choices, abilities, changed class and game mechanics, and the junk stored in their bags and banks is rather too much to face at the moment, after so long since last playing them. I like the return to the warlock class, my first main class, learning it again and seeing the changes with fresh eyes. I will probably move away from elfland to quest, as I imagine most zones have been affected one way or another by the cataclysm, and I can always return to see the changes here later. I have much exploration ahead of me, and plenty of adventure awaits.

  1. 2 Responses to “Losing your tail”

  2. Somehow i really do imagine you being a Warlock, lol. I haven't started any new low level characters for Cataclysm. All the characters I usually play were all at lvl 80 and the ones that i probably want to play somewhat are now all at 85.

    From 80 to 85 I can say questing is really linear in all the zones and very much the only way to get through all the quests and following the zone story. Quests are not as grindy as it used to be like way back in the BC era so more enjoyable though the usual.

    Haven't played a Worgen, though really do like the AV. Chances are will never get to play a Worgen. I've never played alliance or have any character thats alliance. I'm probably not about to change that either. Though the Goblins are interesting new characters, i can't say i find much appeal in wanting to play one.

    So far the new Cataclysm zones have been fun and enjoyed the story of the zones. Vashj'ir is nice and also a long zone vs Mt Hyjal. I guess for some people the preception of distance while underwater add to some their disliking of the zone. But there are some nice stories there with the Naga's.

    So far its been fun, though very linear.

    By Ardent Defender on Jan 1, 2011

  3. Yeah, I really enjoy the warlock class, and am having fun learning it all again. And, perhaps inevitably, I've been dabbling in a bit of PvP just to keep my interest flowing.

    I've not explored any of the new content between 80th and 85th levels yet, sticking to exploring the apparently changed old world. I'm not too impressed with what I've seen so far, although updating the quest system is a more important and beneficial change, which I'm quite happy with.

    Of course, the real reason for overhauling the old world was to allow for flight, and I quickly logged in with my 80th level warrior to train and soar above Stormwind City, which was more impressive and liberating than I expected. Recreating the world to allow for flight is definitely the major change in Cataclysm.

    By pjharvey on Jan 2, 2011

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