Stranglethorn Vale: Hot or Not?

It isn’t often that you get a chance to see two notable professionals duke it out about the design of a WoW zone. But Stranglethorn Vale, the marmite of the Warcraft World (ie. you love it or you hate it) inspires strong emotions among players and pros alike.

Richard Bartle describes why he thinks it’s such a well designed zone.

He’s made good points. When I have levelled an alt from scratch, I’ve always breathed a sigh of relief when I got into Stranglethorn in the low 30s because it was such an easy, well laid out zone for levelling. I don’t agree with all of his points, in particular the flow is less good for Horde than Alliance, but he reminded me of all the fun I’d had working through quests there.

Aside from that, it’s an awesome article and worth reading for his musings on the theme of the zone and how he feels the quest and level design feeds into the whole experience. I don’t know if was mostly a happy accident with Stranglethorn or if this is the kind of thing MMO level designers think about all the time — I’d like to think it was the latter though.

Lum picks Stranglethorn apart and describes why it drives him nuts.

This isn’t as well executed an article or as persuasive an argument, but he’s right that the zone covers too wide a level range, and the jump between them is not smooth. The levelling guides always solved this by presenting it in two parts and sending you off round the world in the interrim. Not something you’d associate with smooth flow.

12 thoughts on “Stranglethorn Vale: Hot or Not?

  1. Personally, I hated the Barrens, Stonetalon Peak, Ashenvale… -> thanks god I could play Alliance and enjoy Westfall, Elwynn, Redridge and Duskwood before STV. 🙂

    I love a lot of things in STV, it is “special” in some way. There is definitely something about the zone.

    I believe that the ongoing PvP threat is a major reason for people to hate it.

    But I wonder that especially Horde players should hate it that much… the other Horde Zones are so much more barren than the lively jungle of STV.

    • I think you’ve just summed up why alliance levelling in vanilla was always seen as a better and more polished experience. I know I found that with my human priest. Westfall and Duskwood were awesome, beautiful, carefully themed zones and then they led you right into Stranglethorn. Beautiful.

      On horde, I always felt people were too harsh on the Barrens because it is really quite cool (it’s just way too big!) but Stonetalon and Ashenvale are pretty awful. And then to get to Stranglethorn, you hop on a boat from the Barrens and are at totally the wrong end for the quests in Grom’gol, and for Nesingwary. (If you come in at Grom’gol on the zeppelin instead, the quests are actually really nicely stepped with lots of troll slaying and exploring, but it’s not the natural flow unless you know the place beforehand.)

      Also, as horde, you’ve already done some big game hunting in the african savannah (aka Barrens) so it’s not surprising that doing it again in the jungle isn’t quite such a change of pace.

  2. Hate. Hate Hate Hate Hate Hate.

    I can’t stand the place, much prefer anywhere on Kalimdor. I’ve got to be pretty creative about avoiding the place on my alts. The whole running back and forth from Rebel Camp to Booty Bay, pre-flightpoint was what killed it for me.

    That and Hemet “If I never see you again it’ll be too soon” Nesingwary.

  3. In the original Warcraft series, Thrall ended up in Orgrimmar because it was the only decent place he found in ‘The Barrens’ to set up a camp.
    The Barrens can’t be made into an interesting zone scenery-wise; by it’s name it is simply that – Barren.
    Personally I don’t mind the Barrens at all. I prefer it vastly to Dun Morogh and the whole Dwarf/Gnome starting area and quests.

    Regarding STV. I actually enjoy the Troll-bashing quests. They are a bit grindy, because the requiremnts are too high: 30 ears or whatever instead of say 15, but having to solo 3 or 4 enemies at once can be fun.

    The Nesingwary quests as well as most of the Goblin quests I find pretty tedious, so I skip those as much as possible.

  4. My take on it is that Bartle sees the design, rather than the execution. For example, he describes a flexible system where players get to tackle exactly the right challenges for them. In reality, players have to do their hunting in precisely the correct order (no substituting tougher animals that you can actually find for the ones you’ve been ordered to kill).

  5. Indeed, GA, Bartle seems to be lauding the design rather than the play. He’s stated more than once that he can’t look at these things like a player. His comments are great for anyone wanting to understand game design in MMOs a bit better.

    Still, there’s something to be said for understanding the *players*, and if they don’t appreciate “good design”, perhaps “good design” doesn’t have as much of a place in MMOs as might be hoped for.

    • Very well said Tesh! Brilliant design is only brilliant if the players can appreciate it. However players should not have to *understand* that something is designed well — that is the job of the designer. If at anytime the player senses any semblance of the designers hand at work then the design has failed.

      Good design should not be noticed by players. 🙂

  6. I loved STV but that may be in part because I was treating all “reds” as kill on sight back then, as were most people on the server. So it was an intensely pvp zone punctuated by the rather grindy quests. A complicated and confusing quest chain would have not been helpful at all since 90% of my focus was on pvp and 10% was on pve.

  7. GArmadillo, Tesh: Yeah, I agree. He comes across as an ideas kind of guy, and I suspect that if he likes the ideas behind a game, he’ll give them a bye on the implementation.

    But I can’t really talk because I was saying something similar about Galactrix a couple of days ago (ie. I loved what they were trying to do so I could overlook the fairly obvious failings). And I wonder if most people are like this about games to some extent. I was thinking that about the Darkfall review in Eurogamer too — the game clearly has some objective failings, but the people who love what it was trying to do can overlook them and still enjoy it.

    • Definitely. We turn a blind eye to the warts if we like the heart of a game. It’s not just games, either. 😉

  8. If you are on a Normal or RP server you love it for its easy quests and fast XP

    If not that Jungle turns into Vietnam and you are shellshocked from the fear of when you’ll see the next red name come by and 1-shot you…

  9. I loved STV on both PVP and PVE/RP servers. It was one zone where my Hunter felt like he was hunting… people. 🙂

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