Sunday, 17 August 2008

Beta Impressions: Welcome to Northrend

No, I'm not going to be posting about the beta exclusively from now on.  This is just a result of nothing of interest [1] happening on live this last week and a bit, while lots of interesting things happened in the beta.

I've decided not to post much in the way of concrete details on the beta content.  I want to keep this blog relatively spoiler-free; to the extent that instead of describing the details of a quest or NPC conversation, I'll probably just mention the general concept and move on.  Maybe the odd landscape screenshot or the like, but nothing really spoilery.

One aspect of that are the letters from Northrend; they let me poke fun at the beta content without having to explicitly talk about it.

So, impressions of entering Northrend for the first time; what can you expect on day one?

Crash, Bang, Boom!

Hopefully what you do not experience are error dialogs telling you that the data files are corrupted, that they cannot be repaired, and you have to sit through an hour and a half install again.

For the eighth time.

Because that's how many times I've had to reinstall Wrath so far; that's not even counting the times that I tried to install and had it fail.  I don't know what Blizz has done to their installer, but it's garbage at the moment.  It looks like it's not bothering to validate that the files it installs are actually valid; so when you get to the latest patch an hour later, you find that a random file's been corrupted and you have to reinstall.

(Incidentally, that's what Its' "fainting" problem was a symptom of.)

For now, I appear to have a reasonably stable install, which is nice.

Welcome to Northrend, Here's Your Axe

The first time you step into Outland, there's a real sense that you're not in Azeroth any more.  Outland is weird and alien; that made it exciting the first time, but nowadays the only Outland zone I still really like is Nagrand, which is ironically the most "normal" zone there is.

Northrend is completely different.  It doesn't feel out of place in Azeroth; Blizzard could have shoved it in next to any existing Azeroth zones, and it would have fit right in.  The difference is that the Northrend zones feel more... polished.  More epic.  Bigger and better.

Outland's zones were, I think, better designed, but suffered from a very alien art direction.  Northrend is even more well-designed in comparison to Outland, but returns to a more classic Warcraft art style.

It also, as I said, feels more epic.  For example, the first time I flew from Orgrimmar to Warsong Hold, I had to wonder whether the hold had been built into the side of a massive canyon... only to realise I was just in an utterly colossal building.  There's also the conversations with the NPCs themselves.  As your character "grows up," you are very much a nobody.  You're not a big hero like Jaina or Thrall.  You're just a freelance warrior among the multitudes.

But there are times in Northrend where the NPCs stop and say "wow; I can't believe you really did that.  You're awesome!"  When you have the leader for the Horde forces in Northrend praise you for your efforts, organise an honour guard for you and give you one of his wolf mounts to get you to the front lines, you start to feel like an actual somebody.

And it's bloody fantastic.

"I seek the holy grail!"

Quests are also much better in Wrath than in either vanilla or BC.  Sure, there's still the "kill N of X, Y and Z," "gather Q of J" and even a few dreaded "escort M back to N" quests in there.  But they feel more polished.  I'm yet to come across a quest where I groaned and felt like putting off doing it because I could see it being a real pain.

Take the kill quests for example: normally you get something along the following lines:

Deathstalker Biggles wants you to kill 5 Fluffy Penguins, 6 Harmless Penguins and 14 Baby Seals.

But now, most of the quests look like this:

Deathstalker Biggles wants you to kill 20 Fuzzy Defenceless Critters.

There's still a number of the "old style" there, but they tend to be much easier to accomplish, and won't see you running around half the zone trying to find the type of mob that, inexplicably, only spawns about 5% of the time.

And then there are the vehicle quests.  I've seen a number of people complaining that the addition of vehicles is going to turn WoW into a glorified online Halo clone, but it's simply not true.  Do you know what the first "vehicle" I encountered was?

A horse.

Seriously; there's a quest to steal yourself a horsie.  You go up to it, and it has the "enter vehicle" cursor on it.  You click on it, and your character jumps on (quite literally, I might add; you don't just appear on its back in a puff of smoke) and you ride off with it.

Really, the vehicle system is just a way for Blizzard to make it so that you can hop on or into some other object in the world, be it a mount, a vehicle or a structure, and use special abilities that apply to just that object.

And unlike the bombing quests from BC, each of the vehicle quests thus far has been different.  I've ridden on the back of a stolen horse, driven around a field of battle on a tank, flown on a wyrm, and manned a static gun emplacement.

I also want to go out on a tangent briefly in order to highlight a moment from Wrath.  This has very light spoilers in it, so I'm hiding it in a little spoiler box.  If you want to see it, click in the box (you'll need JavaScript enabled) or simply disable styling on this page.

You're down on the beach near a small outpost with a scant few tents.  A much larger outpost lies just up the coast, shrouded in mist.  The place looks completely abandoned, and you're told that it was attacked by some nameless force.  The Tuskarr near one tent seems reluctant to name the attackers, apparently out of fear that invoking their name will summon them.

You are tasked with getting back some of his possessions, as well as the standard death and destruction that goes with attempting to recover any outpost.

But before you go, they tell you to be careful: they've already sent a number of people into the mist... and none have returned.

So I'm standing there, thinking that this is just a load of rubbish.  Thanks to my goggles with built-in zoom feature, as well as Eagle Eye, I know the place is deserted.  Maybe there's some sort of debuff for entering the mist?

Ah, who cares?!  I run forward, figuring on just running around to grab the quest items and...

...and then my vision narrows, the corners of the screen whiten out, and the NPCs disappear from sight.  Everything goes slightly foggy and then I see... something moving in the mist.  What the...

I back out of the mist; the NPCs return, and whatever was in the mist disappears.  OK, so Blizz is trying to mess with me, are they?

I head back into the mist, and carefully make my way in to meet the enemy...


I have to say that whilst not the most original idea ever, the execution of this particular enemy species is exceptionally well done; especially with the spooky atmosphere!

So those of you out there who love questing, I think you're going to be very happy with Wrath.

Lowbie Tanking Ninja Turtle

Another thing I can't help but have noticed are the changes to Hunter pets.  I won't go into excruciating detail on these right now, but I wanted to get this out:

My turtle is not only usable, but arguably a better levelling pet than my cat.

Here's the thing: back in vanilla and BC, turtles sucked.  Yes, they had excellent mitigation, but that couldn't offset their laughable damage output and threat generation.  They basically couldn't hold aggro off a baby kitten.

They couldn't tank in instances, they couldn't out-dps a fairy with a slightly damp tissue, and no one ever seemed to sell food they would eat.

Which is probably why Bisque ended up falling about 20 levels behind.

However, with the changes to Hunter pets in Wrath, Bisque is now a better levelling pet than Tiddles for one simple reason:

I can't pull aggro off him.

And he's two levels below me.

Tiddles' threat generation is more or less on-par with what he currently does, maybe a bit higher.  But Bisque's is through the roof.  Unless Wrath has bugged out and re-enabled Cower again (oh, how I hate that) or I've started going all-out before he got the first hit in, it's really hard for me to pull aggro.  The little guy just keeps on truckin'!

And he's got a lot of awesome toys now: a taunt, intercept and of course his shield.  Tiddles still blows Bisque out of the water in terms of damage output, but Bisque can now actually hold a mob's attention.

As I said, Tiddles is still pretty much still Tiddles.

There have been a few major changes to my Dragonhawk, Smaug.  He now has a focus dump, so he does decent DPS.  Fire Breath still makes me a little nervous in crowded areas, but he seems to make a pretty decent levelling pet.

Replacing Skill With Button-Mashing

And then there's the Steady Shot change.  Let me just say first off that it had to be made.  Hunters were penalised more than any other class based on their network latency.  But manually weaving my shots was part of what made being a Hunter exciting for me; knowing that I had to actually get my timing right to maximise my DPS.

And before you say it, no a macro would not have worked just as well.  Using a macro led to a 10% loss in DPS; please leave your raving zealotry at the door.

But with this change, Hunter DPS really does just boil down to "mash X until it's dead."  I know Blizzard isn't finished with our class yet, but I really hope they come up with some way of complicating our DPS that doesn't depend on network conditions or some other factor outside our control.

On the whole, Wrath looks to be shaping up really nicely.  Blizzard are clearly raising their own bar on this one, improving (even if in just a small way) on pretty much every aspect of the game.

Also, if you have any questions about Wrath, feel free to ask them, and I'll do my best to answer them.

[1]  I didn't think a Kara run that got called on Moroes, a Gruul's run I didn't go on and farming Mudfish for a few hours qualified as "interesting."  :P

1 comment:

David said...

Great update. Thanks for this.