Moving on to the familiar

2nd January 2011 – 3.58 pm

Westfall ho! I never much enjoyed adventuring in low-level Elfland and, now that the cataclysm has hit, I am hoping to find new experiences wherever I go, rather than simply trying to streamline my progress to be as efficient as possible. But first I have to work out how to get there. Taking a gryphon flight from Rut'theran Village to Auberdine reveals a tidal wave has destroyed the pier, and no ships depart from here any more. I fly back to the village where I saw the ship earlier. I assumed that was the old service redundantly shuttling characters between here and Auberdine slower than the gryphons, but it is now travelling directly to Stormwind City. I am on my way, and have seen some of the new changes already.

In Stormwind City, I see the goblins in the centre of the trade district and at first ignore them, not planning to waste time with the seasonal quests to get some mostly useless presents from a jolly weirdo in a beard, until I realise the potential. I grab the flight point in Stormwind City, hop on the Deeprun Tram up to Ironforge, help myself to a couple of presents, then take a gryphon flight south again. This should let me get a bird's-eye view of a few regions and the mighty changes wreaked. And it's all a bit disappointing. There seem to be a few changes in Dun Morogh, but only where trolls have moved in, and both Searing Gorge and Burning Steppes seem unchanged. Northshire Abbey, starting zone for humans, has been razed and is slightly different, but I see nothing cataclysmic.

Oh well, on to Westfall. I know the route and don't fancy taking any diversions, not seeing any major changes here either. But I can't resist going to say hello to Hogger again, the elite mongrel who was the bane of many a low-level character. I return a warlock, with a blue cloud demon for company, and feeling suitably overpowered. And Hogger is easier to find, now restricted to his own end of the camp and neatly cordoned off to keep the unwary from wandering in to his path. But my revenge is not sweet. I am about to defeat the dog when some Stormwind coppers turn up to haul Hogger off the the Stockades. That's different, and I assume we can meet again when I am inevitably sent to quell a riot.

Diversion complete, I get back on the road and cross the border from Elwynn Forest in to Westfall. No longer are there two evicted farmers standing forlornly by the side of the road but instead a crime scene, with an inspector and his officers examining a couple of corpses. I am tasked to gather some clues, which I do, killing a few rather aggressive tramps along the way, but I am keen to explore the rest of the zone. I leave the inspector behind and press onwards, stopping at a farm to get a chicken for a pet, and making it to a Sentinel Hill that is more impressive than I recall. I also spy a gaping chasm off in the distance with rocks and trees flying in a cyclone above it. That's new.

The quest density seems much decreased. I don't find my log crammed with a dozen quests that let me run around with gay abandon and slaughter anything in my path. Maybe I'm doing something wrong. I am sent to the lighthouse, though, which makes a change from having to find it on your own initiative to gather the quests there, although that defeats the exploration aspect of the world a little. The revamping of the zones includes the quests, which I am glad to find out at the lighthouse. The old ghost used to send you along the entire length of the Westfall coast, murdering murlocs across such a level range that you either had to gain five levels whilst doing the single quest, risk getting stomped in to the ground by the higher-level murlocs in the south, or slaughter the fish-men for no XP gain in the north. Now you only need to cull a few of the locals, which is easier and makes more sense.

Moonbrook has been taken by the Alliance, and it's about time. The 'secret' entrance to the Deadmines eluded the idiots at Sentinel Hill for a few too many years to give any impression of competence. The Defias Brotherhood also seem to be pretty much eradicated, although I am seeing hints of a revival. And I find out, after returning to collect further hints for the inspector, that I am indeed doing something wrong with respect to quest density. Once I have furthered his quest objectives a little I am asked to do much more, and have a nicely populated quest log after all. It seems that the content is gated more heavily now, pulling you in to the zone and shepherding you in a certain direction until you are capable to wandering freely. It's a little restrictive, and having to do the same initial quests each time on entering the region with any character could become tiresome, but it adds a decent narrative direction.

I see there are new flight points dotted around the landscape, which should make low-level travel more bearable than continually running across the region at the whim of sadistic quest givers. But maybe they aren't as needed as expected, as the quest givers have been given a stern telling-off, stopped from getting you to speak to someone in another continent who only tells you to go right back where you came from. They also don't ask you to kill a number of very specific mobs, where defeating a stronger enemy is apparently less desirable and won't count towards the quota. Nowadays, you are sent of to kill a type of mob, and any kind of kill is recognised as getting the job done.

Another change is the highlighting of the mobs' nameplates when they are the target of a quest. That's a decent visual indicator, letting you clearly see what mobs around you are needed for quests without having to mouse-over them or check your log or quest helper. However, it has a peculiar side-effect of making areas look deceptively unthreatening. Other mobs can populate an area but their nameplates won't be highlighted, and as you condition yourself to look for the red nameplates to gain targets you can become blind to the other mobs, wandering in to dangerous places without realising how much of a target you are making yourself. This is compounded when defeating the last mob required for the quest, as then all the other mobs of the same type are no longer highlighted either, and your view goes from seeing a bunch of red names to no names at all, and everything looks safe. But you still need to be aware that you are surrounded by mobs that want to eat you. The highlighting effect is a neat addition overall, but a decent awareness of it being active is required or it can backfire significantly.

I glide through Westfall, pleased more with the changes to questing than with the changes to the region itself. There are some cosmetic changes, one quite large, but in general it is the same region as I remember. That shouldn't be surprising, as the world hasn't been turned upside down, and the changes that are present show progress in the world, which is change enough for an otherwise static environment. The changes to questing are decent, and extend out to Redridge Mountains and Duskwood. Even quests relying on drops look to be improved, with quest items clearly highlighted and looking to be approaching 100% drop rate, if not actually 100%. It is far less frustrating than having to trust the odds. I wouldn't call the revamped World of Warcraft a modern MMORPG, but the changes have certainly pulled it back from being horribly out-dated.

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