Cataclysm: We didn’t remake the low level zones for YOU!

brillcata Brill 2.0

It’s been an exciting week so far in Azeroth. Player numbers are way up, on my server (Argent Dawn EU) there have been queues every night stretching up to 30 mins. The lower level zones are populated and busy again. Faction cities are bustling, and Orgrimmar is already developing a reputation as a death trap (no you can’t just jump down from a zeppelin tower without safe fall, yes Gamon will kill you if you attack him.) It’s as if the whole world – the meaningful one, not just the expansion zones – has come alive.

True to their word, Blizzard have indeed redone all of the levelling zones. 1-60 is a different game, or at least a different version of the same game. There are old quests which remain untouched (usually distinctive because the drop rate for quest items is lower than 100%) but they are mixed with the new stuff. Also, travel has become much less of an issue. There are far more flight points in the game now, and questing characters are often offered a lift via the quest chains to any distant locales rather than having to run off and discover them on their own.

I took Spinks to have a look at the new Eastern Plaguelands, now greener, less plaguey, and with less Scourge. And it wasn’t very long before I decided to leave it and just level a new alt to check out the new low level stuff. Why? It wasn’t there for level 80s. It isn’t just that the quests were trivial (they may be trivial at level also) but the NPCs’ timeline wasn’t in check with mine. Tirion Fording, who fought the Lich King alongside us in ICC, is settled in Hearthglen as head of the Argent Dawn (an organisation now looking for a goal, I imagine). If you talk to him, he doesn’t have a special response for a Kingslayer, even just to acknowlege a rather important and character defining moment for him. He’ll treat you like the level 35 you are supposed to be in that zone.

Also, the storyline doesn’t make a lot of sense for a high level character. The NPCs came back from Northrend and got on with defending/ attacking places and various other tactical plans, but the high level characters who came with them are … somewhere else. (What was so important for Spinks that it outweighed defending her home against worgen invasions? Who knows, and the game doesn’t say …)

The other issue for me is that my home faction has changed in tone, and I feel as though I blinked and missed it. Up until now, the characters’ timelines had been that they started in Azeroth, went on to Outland and then to Northrend in a continuous journey. That timeline is now weird. When new characters get to Outland or Northrend now, they are effectively going back in time.

So taking Spinks through the low level zones was just going to be confusing for me. I’m not a hardcore RPer in WoW but I like to keep a sense of my character’s personal story and background and not being sure where I am in my own timeline is something I want to avoid. Also, when I first levelled her, the forsaken had a gothic hammer house of horror vibe which I quite liked. The feel now is not the same, some of the more tragic little personal stories are gone and there’s more slime. I don’t really know what to make of that.

There could have been ways round it. There could have been a new introduction/ bridging video for high level characters explaining what their faction has been doing and where they have been in the time between Northrend and Cataclysm. There could have been ways to sidekick your level down or frame the new content as if it was a story being told to you by a minion or lower level friend. But in a few months time, the majority of levellers wont’ hang around in Northrend or feel this sense of disconnect. It won’t matter to them that they’re going back in time because they won’t be killing the Lich King anyway. It would have been a lot of work just for us, right now. (Although Blizzard doesn’t exactly suffer from a lack of resources…)

In any case, on the new alt things make more sense. At least for now.

Gaming News: Shattering hits Azeroth, Elder Scrolls 5 in production, Skills change in EVE, casting for Uncharted film, details on FF Agito XIII

As you can see from the subject line, this is a quiet time of year for gaming news. But there are some moves afoot to change that.

Bioware has already been issuing teasers for a new game announcement to be made after the Spike VGA awards, and now Sony have also announced that a new exclusive PS3  title will be announced then also (word is that it will be Uncharted 3, which probably blows Bioware out of the water.)

As predicted last week, there have been a lot of heavy discounting sales this week. Steam’s indie bundles have been particularly good value if you had any interest in some of the games, and their sale still has a few days to run. I picked up a copy of Audiosurf for approx. zilch a couple of days back, which has been good fun. Anyone else make any good sales buys?

Interestingly, Steam are encouraging people to make a wish list. When I tried, I struggled to think of many games to put on it, on the grounds that if I really wanted something I probably have bought it already. Not really sure what to make of that. Amazon is also entering the world of digital download, at least on their US site.

An article from Massively that caught my eye was about Wurm Online which has revamped its tutorial. WO is very much a sandbox game, I never had much time to play other than checking it out and thinking that it reminded me a bit of Tale in the Desert. But if that sounds like your thing, then this might be a good time to jump in.

The Shattering hits Azeroth

Phase one of the Cataclysm hit World of Warcraft this week, transforming all of the low level zones and quests and introducing some new class/ race combinations. The rest of the expansion (the new races and new high level zones and content) is what you will be buying if you purchase the expansion on 7th Dec.

There are no comprehensive reviews out yet, and I’ll be writing more about my experiences next week but the lower level game is now incredibly slick, story focussed, and bang up to date with lots of interesting ways to stitch the quest based play together. I’ve been impressed at the parts I have seen.  No one does this type of thing better than Blizzard and possibly only Bioware even come close. Or in other words, if you like themepark quest-led style RPGs, there has never been a better time to join the party. And Blizzard are sweetening the deal at the moment with some pretty good discounts on WoW and all of the existing expansions. Come on in, the water’s lovely :)

Also, Blizzard announced more details of the various Cataclysm launch events which see their dev team sent off around the world to host in different cities. London gets Ghostcrawler, and … does anywhere else really matter anyway? (Me, I’ll be in bed at midnight on 7th Dec.)

Elder Scrolls 5 in production

Eurogamer quote an unnamed source that Bethesda is working on a 5th game in the Elder Scrolls series. This would be a sequel to Oblivion, but hopefully not with the same dreadful levelling system.

Still if – as is likely – this is true, it means good news to come for fans of the single player RPG. Or is it? Various commentators have wondered if the new game might be an MMO. (I think this would be a pretty bad idea, but who knows?)

EVE Online ditches the learning skills

As you may know, EVE is based on characters learning skills. Currently, a whole batch of metaskills exist which make it possible to learn other skills more quickly. So a savvy player would train those up first and the save hundreds of hours in skill training time for future skills.

But as from an upcoming patch, this will no longer be the case. Learning skills are disappearing from EVE, and players who spent time learning them will get the skill points back – the link is to the official announcement and it has graphs and everything to explain why they did this.

Another entry on the dev blog this week touched on the issue of F2P and item shops. Short summary: they will soon be selling vanity items via some kind of a cash shop. We don’t know if the vanity items will also be craftable in game.

Casting announced for Uncharted film

It’s a sign of how weak the news has been that this even gets a mention here. But for those interested, Mark Wahlberg will play Nathan Drake (ie. the lead) in the film of Uncharted, and the producers are talking to Robert de Niro about playing his father.

This has caused a large amount of concern amongst fans who don’t think he fits the role. But that’s likely to have been the case whoever was cast, although my personal pick would have been Tom Hardy (Eames in Inception).

Final Fantasy Agito XIII

I think anyone could be excused for being confused about the various different games being touted around in the FF13 series. Some details about this one, which is to be a PSP game, have been released this week, but frankly I’m still confused. And I don’t think we’ve had much mention of FF Versus 13 (which I think was to be a fighter) yet either.

It was the year of fire, the year of destruction, the year we took back what was ours

When we last saw Spinks, she was standing at the raceway in the Shimmering Flats. But when I logged on after the shattering, everything had changed.

spinkscata2

She was standing on a small floating platform. The title ‘Raceway Ruins’ flashed up above her head. A look at the map showed that she was in the middle of a giant lake where the raceway had been.

cata_shimmeringflats

Undead being quite good at the not breathing underwater lark, she dived in to have a look at where the raceway had been. You can see the floating wreckage on the lake bed here.

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She swam across to a giant barge that was manned by both goblins and gnomes, and found that someone enterprising had brought both a flight master and some thanksgiving tables.

You can see why goblins are such famously good merchants, they really do think of everything.

Mrs Spinks goes to Orgrimmar

spinksbarrens

It took only a couple of months for the dream of settling down somewhere away from all the fighting and politics to run a small pub to die. Silverpine was, after all, packed to the gills with forsaken celebrating the fall of the prince of lordaeron with only emptiness in their hearts instead of …. whatever it was they were supposed to feel.

They were bad company and bad customers.

Polishing the bar for the 76th time that day in silence, the old warrior wondered privately if, in a sense, the lich king had won after all. There was never going to be a scenario where forsaken retired quietly to farm crops and raise children. Only silence, darkness, infighting, and waiting for the next inevitable war of aggression to divert the masses from any kind of civil disobedience. Repeat until dead. Again. Dark Lady watch over us.

She left the keys to the till with the uptight cellarman who claimed that he had once been a Baronet, in King Terenas’ day. “That’s nice dear,” she deadpanned. “Don’t forget to count the bottles on delivery day. I may be some time.”

It was a long trip to the Southern Barrens, where old battle companions had settled. The windrider flew silently, across green open plains. When Spinks arrived at the farm it was nightfall. She hesitated about going up to the farmhouse, instead watching shadows play across the inside of the curtains and laughter and warmth ripple out. It was no place for the dead.

After watching for awhile, she left, taking the long road through Thousand Needles to the Salt Flats. Another day passed, but neither she nor the horse needed to eat or sleep.

spinksracecourse

The racetrack was quiet, gnomes and goblins still busily competing to show off their engineering skills. No one there cared who wanted to bet on the races, living, undead, as long as their money was good.

Spinks bet on the goblins — “Always bet on green, at least I learned that from the orcs.” Sometimes she won, sometimes she lost.

It was some days later that the warlock arrived, his fine silk and brocades trailing in the dust of the desert.

“I hoped I might find you here,” he said dryly, steepling skeletal fingers.

“Congratulations, you get a special prize.”

“You may have noticed the earthquakes. Elementals are attacking, all over Azeroth. It’s been getting worse. They’re focussed on Orgrimmar. Garrosh has even called the horde to help defend – I know, couldn’t happen to a nicer orc.”

She eyed him, a flicker of interest in the depths of the sockets.

The warlock nodded silently to the unspoken question. “The inner circle asked me to find you. Mrs Spinks, we’re needed.”