Into the Wilds: WoD Questing Review, Part 2

I feel like talking some more about the WoD questing model, so I’ve done a little on the middle zones, Gorgrond and Talador. I found enjoyable, and they both really seemed to recapture the old feeling of ‘you have multiple areas to go’ that was a real railroading problem through Cata and Mists. The fact that you’re no longer pointed towards a specific quest helps a lot, though I felt it meant the conclusion to Gorgrond lacked cohesion in tying everything together.

Gorgrond

Going into Gorgrond, I felt… a sense of trepidation. It was, from first glance, completely different to the Blade’s Edge of old, and I wondered how Blizzard could tie it together. They did brilliantly. Gorgrond, more than anything, embodies the ‘savage’ persona that Blizzard has been hammering us with for the last year, and it actually makes sense without being offensive in this zone. It comprises an elaborate and subtle story of a civil war, effectively, between the creatures of the wild forests – genesaur, ancients, botani and their creations; and the beasts of the earth – gronn, ogron, goren and all they command. In this ancient land, we are thrown into this war and left to do as best we can. The Iron Horde takes a significant backseat as the struggle for resources really comes into play.

Alliance-side, I loved the storylines of the Rangari and the Thorium Brotherhood in this zone. The dwarves and the draenei play off each other well, and their struggle to find their missing troops and complete the objectives they are there to do is well-structured. The fantastic landscape goes well with the questing, although Yrel and Maraad perhaps sit back too much. Thaelin and Rangari Kaalya were stand-out characters in the Alliance questline and I hope we’ll be seeing them again. On the side of the Horde, the Laughing Skull provided interesting, if a bit one-dimensional characters who just really loved bones. While there were probably better clans to ally with (given how the Laughing Skull consisted of around four orcs at this point) they were a good laugh. And the Crimson Fen, on both factions, was exceptionally creepy.

I was originally going to criticise the inordinate amount of giant elite monsters compared to the prior zones – but I realise that it makes complete sense. Gorgrond is ancient and unknown, and it’s also heavily suggested to be Titan-related  – it needs guardians, and the mysterious ancient giants and genesaur that patrol the land provide an interesting perspective. I loved the fact that, unlike some past zones where the Horde and Alliance have achieved the exact same thing, here the Horde gained an artefact for controlling the magnaron, and the Alliance one for the genesaur. It adds an interesting twist, and as with the capture of the power of the Mogu in 5.2, I hope it’ll be referenced again.

My main criticism would be the finale of Gorgrond’s main questlines. While we spend a lot of time on the wilds of Gorgrond, the Iron Horde are rather irrelevant until the final quests – and they end very anti-climactically. The artefact is damaged beyond use, we kill another Son of Gronn – but why? What’s the point of the Iron Approach? We destroy the Iron Docks in the dungeon and the rest of the fleet goes to attack Talador. Was it a failure? I feel much like we did at the end of Vashj’ir – you’re not sure if you’ve won or you’ve lost – and ultimately, you have to work it out from what you do next.

Talador

Upon entry to Talador, the music was vivid and beautiful. It’s easily the best music of the expansion that I’ve heard so far. The music matches the landscape perfectly. The autumnal and earthy colours are different from Terokkar, yet the landscape is similar, and I like the way – much like with Shadowmoon and Gorgrond – that there is a hint of what will one day be Outland, but it’s something much deeper.

I’d like to know who had creative jurisdiction over naming my outpost ‘Fort Wrynn’. It’s not my own preferred choice, I have to say. I was not expecting Zangarra at all – and Khadgar being angry at Jaina is quite funny (though where she gets off on calling me an outsider after I helped purge her city and steal Lei Shen’s power for her, I do not know). Maraad is also kinda starting to grate on me, Alliance-side. Why did we take the most violent of the Vindicators with us? Seriously, first he starts beating up the homeless in Azuremyst, and now he’s advocating for genocide against the orcs. You’ve seen where that goes, buddy. It’s not somewhere to go. Horde-side, the questing was again very well-done, and I loved seeing Liadrin make an appearance. I was a bit confused to see Durotan referring to Orgrim with more affection than, you know, his actual brothers – considering Orgrim is with Blackhand, and we’ve seen nothing of him in this timeline, it came out of the blue. The absence of Thrall was also a relief.

I found the various draenei areas I went to very interesting – but each time, I felt as though it was a little short. Admittedly, everything was very dramatic – the Iron Horde was attacking and we needed to move fast – but I thought Talador was a lot shorter than Gorgrond. Tuurem, Telmor and Shattrath were all done with in a handful of quests. Still, that doesn’t detract from the fact that I loved seeing all the areas of Outland in this form.

Again, Blizzard have outdone themselves with Auchindoun and Shattrath – and again, I feel like they really go underused. It’s a pity, but there’s not much to be done about it now. However, I suppose there’s only so much story you can fit into one area. Talador definitely was a good zone, but I feel like it was missing something – there’s conflict in a great many areas and little to tie them together. You just appear to be playing whack-a-mole. Another criticism: Both my Alliance and Horde mains did not get the ‘Establishing your Outpost’ checkpoints – and I have no idea why. It needs fixing, but it was the only bug I came across here.

The final quest, if over a little fast, led into an absolutely fantastic cutscene. I loved how Yrel and Durotan teamed up against Blackhand (especially notable is how they co-opt each other’s weaponry), and I like seeing that the faction differences are lessening due to the necessity of co-operation in Draenor. Maraad’s death was.. poignant. I’m still not sure whether it was our Maraad, but it was a noble sacrifice. The triumph of Blizzard’s cutscenes is really stellar here – you can lip-read Khadgar at this point, which shows how far cutscenes have come since Wrath. The final battle was climactic and well-done. Talador was, all in all, a triumph.

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A Remarkable Thing: Early WoD Questing Review

A remarkable thing happened last night while I was getting ready for bed.

I felt excited for what was to come in the day to follow – and excited to play Warlords of Draenor. I can’t exactly say why, and I still have some critiques, but the storyline has so far been engaging.

In an expansion where I’ve struggled more than any other to build up excitement, to the point of not caring when I actually installed it, I think this is a good thing, and it says a lot about just how well-crafted lots of the story in Draenor is.

My opinion changed, I’d say substantially, when I finally got to Draenor. I’d like to list my thoughts on the introduction zones, where they rise high and fall flat, and hopefully there are some lessons within.

Assault on the Dark Portal

My initial impressions of this section were that the jungle was very beautiful. Though Khadgar is prominent, he’s not overly-talky and I feel like a lot of the issues of Thrall’s Mary-Sue-ism are avoided. He stays back, only attacks when necessary, and generally lets you steer the ship. Also, he sasses Thrall, which I like a lot. I loved the way that you go through the portal and immediately are thrown into things. You hit the ground running, which is something that always works well for the start of an expansion. It’s engaging and you get a rough idea of who is involved – I’m not convinced that the giant bold text is completely necessary, though.

Shadowmoon Valley

Shadowmoon Valley is a world and then some away from its BC counterpart. It is completely different and yet still recognisable in some aspects. It is beautiful, eerie, dark and mysterious, and one of the centres of draenei culture.

I found it absolutely fantastic. The questing flow was smooth, the zone was incredibly immersive, the lore of the place was fantastic. I loved the ties to BC with the exarchs, as well as new lore such as the expansion of the draenei defence crystals. Questing was very engaging – I found any ‘kill x’ to be smoothly integrated, and there were plenty enough quests not of that variant to make up for any I encountered. Ashran, while it very much captures the ‘Alliance’ feel like the Garrison does, is no Karabor. Karabor is unquestionably draenei; beautiful, whole, magical on another level.

I also loved the feel of exploration. Quests were a surprising encounter and reward, and bonus objectives were interesting distractions, though I’d perhaps like some exposition to go with them (they seem very much to fit a ‘kill x’ format, and I’m not really sure why I’m doing them).

A negative of the zone to me, especially when levelling herbalism and archaeology, was that a lot of the zone often had small ledges that you had to run round when objectives were extremely close. I would much rather see an expansion of our ability to scale such things – jump boosts, wall-climbing, even jumping puzzles – rather than them just be an arbitrary obstacle due to our lack of flying.

All-in-all, the story was put together very well – though I could perhaps see the ending coming, Yrel was built up very well, Maraad didn’t feature too heavily, the scenery and music was fantastic – especially the occasional riffs of BC music. I loved the way the Shadowmoon exiles fit into the storyline, as well as Rulkan’s appearance as a follower – the blurring of faction lines in Draenor is a positive for me. Shadowmoon Valley was a strong starter zone and a good base from which to continue.

Frostfire Ridge

Frostfire, while very good.. felt lacklustre in some places. Particularly in the start, I felt like it was substantially less coherent. Whereas in Shadowmoon, we set up our garrison and then go to the native villages to set up trade and good relations, in Frostfire you set up your garrison and then go invade a citadel.

Part of this disappointment comes down to the fact that the quests were buggier than in SMV – I encountered several where objectives would complete at random, and where enemies would change phases without reason.

However, I felt like the zone hit its stride after Bladespire Citadel was taken. There was a real sense of desperate survival, both for the Frostwolves and the Thunderlords, though I was a little off-put by how there seemed to be less flow than in Shadowmoon. I would have liked more direction, but both quests and characters were engaging. While I wasn’t crying my eyes out like at the end of Shadowmoon, I got clear senses of character from the major players – Draka, Durotan, Ga’nar, Lokra, etc.

I think that the real let-down of Frostfire was the scenery, because while it was intended as a barren place where survival was hard – nothing stood out to me. Bladespire was a large rock. Everything else was snowy crags with hints of lava. The best scenery appears to have been reserved for the mountainous level 100 areas, which I have yet to access, and I found that disappointing. Nothing is noteworthy about Frostfire’s scenery, and I felt that it didn’t fully stretch the fantasy that the rest of Draenor appears to do. If anything, I feel like the Horde’s Ashran base more accurately captures the Horde + Draenor feel.

Oh, and there was Thrall. He appeared, was emotional about his parents, displayed a complete lack of understanding of his culture and shamanism, and had three random aunts and uncles introduced.

Plot-wise, I think the major disappointment was the end. We didn’t see much of an Iron Horde threat at all, compared to the assault on Karabor – you defeat a Son of Gruul and Drek’thar throws some rocks at a few siege engines. The lacklustre reveal that the Thunderlord leader had been Durotan’s older brother all along was not only inexplicable and unexplained, it was poor storytelling. I feel like the Frostwolves were let down and that the potential of the zone was not fulfilled by the focus on the Thunderlord story.

None of this, IMO, makes Frostfire a bad zone – it is a good starter zone. But comparatively, Shadowmoon is exceptional, and I hope there’s improvement as the Horde storyline progresses into Gorgrond.