A Whole New Can Of Paint –
New Look Grove of the Ancients (Complete with Flightpath)
Like most zones in Cataclysm, Darkshore has gone through a major redesign. While most other areas in the game have changed dramatically, there are some areas where old quest lines remain. These areas have one thing in common, most of them have felt the Cataclysm and its aftermath. The war that followed has changed many other zones. People have died in other places, but no other zone has seen such devastation to its former quest giving NPC inhabitants. In part because of this, there is not a single quest left from before the world was rocked and town of Auberdine so completely devastated.
Auberdine’s Death brings a new beginning –
Your experience in the new Darkshore begins in Lor’danel, the new Night Elven homebase in the zone. This is not much of a town in comparison to what Auberdine was. There is only an inn, a few tents and a conspicuously empty Night Elven guard tower. There is no dock to be found in all of Darkshore now. If you want to go to Darnassus or Exodar, all you have to do is jump on a flight path. (Yes, I said that correctly. Exodar is now accessible via flight paths from anywhere in Kalimdor.) If Stormwind is you desired destination, then its a short hop to the remains of Ru’theran Village and hop on the old boat that now docks there.
Lor’danel is a much more lush and green “town” than its predecessor, but I would hardly call it a town. It is more akin to a forward base. It has a great deal of amenities, but lacks at least one major one… A meat vendor. Questing through this area as a Worgen Hunter with my default Dog pet was tedious to say the least. Finding meat for him to eat (and he only eats meat) was impossible without going to Darnassus. Even the fauna that has survived the Cataclysm does not seem to drop raw meat nearly as commonly as they did before the changes. It was only because I had kept a good deal of spider bits from the Gilneas experience.
Solving the Old Darkshore’s problems –
Catpath in action
The biggest complaint about the original Darkshore was the sheer area of the zone. Questers had to traverse the length of the zone many many times during their 8-10 levels they spent there. The long narrow zone forced players to run North and then back to Auberine, then farther North and then back to town. After that, they had to run south and back, farther south and back. The tedium of this fact made many players turn to Bloodmyst as the main questing area after it was released in TBC. Bloodmyst was a well designed, far more compact zone that had far better quest rewards, storylines and a much more diverse set of enemies. Unfortunately, the developers thought it was better to mimic the design concepts that worked so well in the Death Knight starting experience. This means heavy usage of the big staples that became used and overused in Wrath of the Lich King.
The zone is designed for players too low to have access to mounts. Instead of just giving mounts to players at level 10, they have given both of the overly large 10-20 zones their own system of “easy” travel. Thusly, like Azshara and its Goblin Rocketway, Darkshore also was given a system of “catpaths”. Situated at several key points in the Northern Darkshore there are cat calvary guards that allow you to access these “catpaths” to most of the miniquest hubs that you are directed to. This system solves one of the two major issues with the old zone. The changes to the flow of the zone itself solve the other issues.
The Quests –
Phased In Malfurion & Friends
Lor’danel gives us a whole new look on the way Blizzard wants us to play the game. This microcosm is both surprising and disturbing. We are given a beautiful new zone, with a wonderful quest flow. However, like so many other new Cataclysm zones (Hyjal, Vash’jir, Deepholm) if one quest is bugged, you can not continue in the zone. During testing this has happened many times, and the nature of the bugs it will be extremely difficult for Blizzard to continually prevent this. As evade bugged mobs have been a problem since the first day of Vanilla. (It actually took 2 patches and a very inventive level 83 Fire Mage to un-bug a certain NPC in the zone allowing players to continue past level 15.)
The zone has many “phasing” aspects starting with the major ones in and around Lor’denal itself. Most of the phasing has to do with rescuing and not rescuing the survivors of Auberdine. It is completely unclear how much time has passed since the destruction. Long enough for other areas of the world to have been wrought with war and for Auberdine to have been overtaken by Twilight Cultists and Air Elementals. Yet, you are still asked to rescue former questgivers, flightmasters, innkeepers, etc from the aftermath.
As you rescue these npc’s you are continually phased and receive follow-up quests. This is nothing new. We have seen similar questing systems throughout Northrend. To put it simply, the system is not as large as anything in Ice Crown or the Death Knight experience. The phasing, with one large exception, is very subtle. Mostly we will see the results of your efforts being visible in the world. Quest givers and NPCs will appear, disappear and move as you progress through the zone.
Choose your own adventure? –
Questing in the Burning Strand
This fact makes the zone incredibly linear. Which in my opinion is an incredibly bad thing. Don’t get me wrong, the zone is wonderful and fun, but there is very little choice in how you progress. This is a predominant theme so far in my explorations of Cataclysm in its entirety. What was so wonderful about the game thus far has been stripped away by phasing and its resulting prerequisites. Cool quests are fun no matter how you have to come upon them. Yet there is something to be said about being able to choose to do 1 quest and not another. To choose to go “here” before you go “there”. There is basically one non linear quest hub in the area, but even it has a breadcrumb that only appears after you have completed several other tasks. You can complete the hub without ever receiving the breadcrumb, but it’s obviously designed that you do it in an extremely linear manner.
Whats so wrong with getting our hands held through to level 20? Well nothing really. Yet it does get extremely old after a while. The Worgen starting experience has improved leaps and bounds since I first played in months ago. This time through it was much more informative and interesting from a story point of view, but I had my hand held by some unseen Blizzard developer the entire time. This feeling continues on until you finish the zone completely.
Yet Another Bombing Run
The new Darkshore is fun. Well, fun may not be the exact word for it, but it works for this discussion. The zone is interestingly redesigned, we get to see the little story points of the old zone leak in here and there. The often difficult to get to Troll Village is now dance free and trying to expand into the Northern zone with the help of the Horde. The Master’s Glaive is being excavated, and somehow the dwarf archeologist that stands 10 feet away from the Twilight’s Hammer is left untouched? Some things just don’t make a lick of sense. Which is what really hurts the zone.
It’s an obvious fact that Blizzard’s “timeline” for the game is completely screwed up. Zones farther into your leveling experience in Azeroth take on a somewhat interesting view on time. Originally it was seen as “time goes by as you level up and get ‘older'”. With Cataclysm this is evident, as your experiences with Malfurion in Darkshore and then in Hyjal would attest to. Time is relative as you traverse the world my friends, be wary to not get too entrenched at what came first or things will begin to unravel more than “How is the Lich King still alive when he’s dead?” quandary that most people are still harping on.
In the end, the zone was a let down. The zone ran the gambit of quests from the “go kill 10 Twilight Cultists” to the “go fetch 10 pieces of crab meat”. But these were fewer and farther between. Instead we got loads and loads of gimmicks. There are multiple vehicle related quests. In fact off the top of my head I counted 3 and a few other vehicle related gimmicks tacked on. These include multiple Sunwell style “on rails” bombing runs that have been so completely over-utilized that Blizzard really needs to take a huge step back and say STOP! The zone had its high points and low points. In the end, what could have been an awesome ending with a good reward both in a piece of equipment and plotline payoff falls flat mostly because there is never any real danger. Being lead around by a leash through 95% of the zone and distracted by gimmick quests and famous npcs does not make the zone anymore fun than it was. Sure it is much improved. Some of the gimmick questlines are quite interesting, but in the end the zone falls flat because of its linearity.
A few more screenshots from the zone after the break. Read the rest of this entry ?