The Burning Kunark Legion

With the final few months closing in until WoW’s first expansion, this has become a frequent topic with my WoW-playing friends. Many of them are refugees from one game or another, and remember at least one expansion of said game. Those hardened folks who are EQ vets remember the original slow pace of expansions before it became a 6-month marketing gimmick. EQ is the one I’m most familiar with, and I look with great trepidation at the upcoming expansion. (for those who feel it’s needful, feel free to go read the infamous ‘mud wimping’ article and come back. I’ll be at the next paragraph.)

The beta details on WoW’s expansion are being kept tight, much like how EQ’s first one was. Once it appears on the scene, I’m sure we’ll have spoilers, but as of yet, it’s widely undiscovered country, sans a few teasers. No other expansion Sony put out generated the wide variety of responses this one did. Some were widely acclaimed (Velious, for example), many were widely despised (GoD, Luclin, etc), but none had the mix of flavor Kunark got, and I believe this was because it was the first. It raised the level cap, and shook the balance the original creators had spent so much time on. Depending who you ask, this was either a brilliant expansion or the root of all EQ evil. WoW’s will be no different. There’s a lot of similarity involved in the two expansions too. I’m going to break down a few of them, with my hopes and dreads on where WoW will go. Feel free to chime in and tell me how wrong/right I am.

1. Level cap raising. In EQ, this was 50-60. Also known, and parsed, to be longer in experience points than all the other levels previous. It was horrible. It took me 25 hours of solid grinding to hit 60 from 59, killing a blue mob roughly every 90 seconds. I did 17 of those hours in a row. This was, believe it or not, considered mind-numbingly fast. WoW will be raising the level to 70, also 10 levels. In a parse I remember reading, it takes roughly the same amount of time to go from 45-60 as it does from 1-45 in WoW, in estimated time by your average player. For me, 53-60 was screaming fast, mostly because of the massive amount of quests I found. Will Outland be paved in quests, allowing us to race through? It seems likely that quests will be sparse, requiring us to resort to EQ-esque grinding. People leveling too fast, burning (ha!) through your content means they leave, and less revenue. Better to keep them on the hook longer.

2. Expanded power/spells. With more levels comes more spells/weapons. In EQ, this eventually meant the original game’s “bosses”, Nagafen and Vox, would kick out anyone over 53 they got mad at. At 60, you could solo an endgame boss. This wasn’t designed, but the new spells and weapons they picked up facilitated this, and players are ever eager to find out what the bounds of the cage are. Something I always found interesting is the Kunark dragons never got the same protection when the game expanded further. I used to solo the Kunark dragons all the time. Back in WoW, those kobolds that whipped your level 10 newbie butt, now fall like leaves to your level 60 mad skillz and your Sword of MegaOuchies. How many level 70’s will be needed to Onyxia? Will MC become a farming romp for soloers?

3. Trickledown power. In original EQ, very little was not tradeable, or NO DROP (now NO TRADE). In Kunark, much more was, but what was formerly uber gear were now twink toys. A warrior with 2 Yak’s? Prior to Kunark, he was probably the top warrior on the server. Now it was someone’s level 20 alt. WoW’s “bind on equip” (later stolen as “attunable” by EQ) brilliantly avoids this kind of trickledown. However, those same bind on equip toys that were so amazingly great aren’t now that you can get formerly-raid-level gear from level 61 Rabid Snowbunnies in Outland. It’ll end up in the AH and on another character. That midlevel stuff that people kept because it was pretty nice will now end up on lowbies. Think of how much more powerful your twink newbie alt in WoW is when you spend a gold in the AH before sending him out. Probably a dervish of death. Now the mid levels will get a boost as well, allowing you to tear through content that much faster. Trivialization of content leads to less enjoyment. You take away the challenge and it’s just grinding.

4. Lore. I can’t make this all negative. The two expansions are amazingly common in their presentation. Both are lost worlds of a sort, filled with an “ancient enemy”. The rediscovery of both will fill in a major gap in the history and allow for much fuller stories to be told. EQ’s Kunark was dripping in lore. There’s some many people haven’t even seen yet because it’s fairly obscure. Every boss was carefully placed in a logical place, with a massive, easily accessible story explaining why they were where they were. Most everything put in had a plan. WoW’s expansion will likely be the same. The Blood Elves were a logical choice for many reasons, although the Draenai still seem a bit odd for me. Someone else has pointed out the High/Dark elf bit to me however, and I have to admit it does kinda look like that. The Dark Elves have tails though…

5. Time sinks. EQ has become synonymous with time sinks. Furor, formerly of the EQ megaguild FoH, used to complain bitterly about them. I remember his rants about the Emperor’s key and the Luclin shards (part of the Luclin progression). However, level 60 in WoW is the same. Grinding faction on your non-raid night is a common activity for most level 60 players. Additionally, Kunark saw the introduction of true “raid” mobs. WoW already has many of these, and it’s unlikely to be a dying prospect. You can expect to have to get 10-40 of your closest friend and repeatedly smack the Giant Monkey of Evil in hopes that your armor piece drops. A raid is, distilled down, a timesink. It requires coordination of mass resources and repeated attempts to try and get your objective. This isn’t easy, and rarely quick. Considering the two lead developers are former EQ raid leaders, more of the same is likely on the menu. The solo-to-60 crowd is unlikely to find much fun in soloing to 70.

The new expansion has the possibility to take the game a step forward or backwards. With “only” 10 levels added on, one is forced to wonder if there will be enough content that is not of the whack-a-mole type, simply to keep us busy until the next one. I really hope that Blizzard looks carefully at the game they stole the crown from and tries to be more ingenuitive than repetitive.

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Oz

Jaded old gamer, and father of gamers, who’s been around long enough. Still, he’s always up for giving the Next Big Thing a whirl.

16 thoughts on “The Burning Kunark Legion”

  1. I think your overstating number 3) the trickle down effect in WoW. People will be leveling from 60 to 70 in the expansion and getting bind on equip items in that range. However, bind on equip items still have a minimum level to equip which prevents them from being passed down to lowbie characters. Did you get confused with Everquest or has it just been awhile since you played WoW? Maybe I’m missing something?

  2. The reqs on BoE greens are generally 5-ish levels lower than whatever one loots them from. Theoretically, the low-end drops in Outland will be equippable by a 56 or 57. They’ll be slightly less powerful than the better blue items attainable at those levels, and infinitely more accessible if we’re looking at 10 “hell levels” of grinding.

  3. Only been about 48 hours since I played WoW, so not that foggy yet =)

    I agree, the required level exists, but the expansion will raise the scale. It’s unlikely that level 40 items. for example, in the expansion will have similar stats to the ones currently in game. No game yet has failed to raise the scale on their items. While an original game item might have +4 int, an expansion item would have +4 int/sta, or +4 int and some effect. This is marketing – people want to buy your expansion to get the new shiny toys.

    Again, going with the EQ extreme since it’s the easiest target here:

    Original tutorial: Played seperately from the game, many people missed it entirely. Barely aquainted you with the game, was full of the developer’s names on stuff. For the most part, it was an easter egg.

    Current tutorial: The devs are NPC’s in the town you enter. You fight conflicts similar, but easier, to normal game combat. If you do nothing but what you’re told to, you recieve a +5 to all stats item that 2 expansions prior required you to sink ~30 days of effort in a high-level raiding guild to get. If you put forth minimal effort, you have a level 10 with decent gear in about 2 hours.

    Mind you, it won’t get that bad, that fast…but I hear we now will have Horde Paladins and Alliance Shamen? That’s the slippery slope.

    ps. Man, I went seriously heavy on the Reagan catchphrases, didn’t I?

  4. I am curious as to what incentive there will be to do questing in the expansion (besides heading to level 70) for those who are in their full Epics. Unless Blizzard completely blows out balance obviously none of the dropped items will be btter than what they have, nor would I imagine the quest rewards would either. So what does that leave those who have been raiding for a LONG time now. A nice pointless grind to get to level 70 so they can start farming more pointless rep with more factions? (Oh and the first designer who ever put in rep farming in a game and thought it “fun”, should be found, hung, shot, and then drawn and quartered)

  5. 1. I think that 60-70 in WoW is likely to be a very lengthy process, but I think it’s one that Blizzard plans to keep as ‘rewarding’ as possible in every way they can except levels. I think that one of the major, if not the single biggest reason that WoW is as popular as it is is that it offers a very very sophisticated leveling/grinding/questing experience from 1-60. You can barely move ten feet without tripping over a quest giver much of the time, and it’s trivial to solo to 60 or include as much grouping as pleases you to do in the process. This presentation has been wildly, overwelmingly successful.

    It’s been obivous for some time that one of Blizzard’s biggest problems in WoW is that this process ends. You get to 60 and wrap things up and then… what? You can PvP a lot, and some people like that. You can run instances incessantly for loot, and some people like that. You can raid; Goddess, can you raid, and some people like that. But what you cannot do is continue the process of leveling. And for players who played WoW because they liked the leveling part of WoW, that’s very very frustrating. Blizzard has obviously known about this problem for some time.

    I believe (and Blizzard has intimated as much in some dev posts) that they plan to make Burning Crusade an expansion that offers as much as possible to the poeple who’s major ‘fun’ from WoW was leveling. And I believe that Blizzard is insightful enough to know that that means more than a grind. I expect Outlands to be absolutely overrun with quests and quest chains and various fiddly things to do. I absolutely expect 60-70 to take a bloody dog’s age, but I equally expect that Blizzard will do everything they can to make that process one that involves the million little things to do and places to go and people to talk to that made 1-60 fly by (compared to WoW). I expect, at the risk of repeating myself, the process of leveling 60-70 in BC to reward the player as often as possible with as much as possible in every way that Blizzard can think of other than levels.

    2. There was a blue post a while back explicitly on this topic. They said they expect that lvl 70s will be… I forget the exact numbers they said, but it was either 10 or 20 manning Ragnaros. They seemed pretty ok with that. Ragnaros’ drops are iLevel 76-78, so ‘Requires level 70’ blues will be slightly better (‘blue’ == ((required lvl + 10) == iLevel)). Nefarian’s drops are iLevel ~83, so they will be about 3 levels better than lvl 70 blues, which is not that much (5 levels is the difference between greens and blue, and between blues and (most) purples at the same required level) better than lvl 70 blues. The old content will be there for people looking for fun, but it’ll be pretty obsolete in terms of character progression.

    3. ‘Bind on Equip’ and required levels will keep this in check, I think. You can twink any level character you want with an array of carefully selected greens and blues already, and BC will probably only add variety, not power.

    4. Eh, whatever. I always thought that EQ was very very weak on storytelling, background, and lore, and the way they kept inventing entirely new areas and villians for its expansions instead of elaborating and building on what they already had was deeply destructive to their stated goals for their storytelling. WoW is clearly doing much better than this, thought the strains of keeping the game playable is clearly showing on their lore.

    5. There’s an extent to which this is another perspective on #1 above. Obviously they could do well or do badly in trying to make sure there’s enough content in BC to keep people happy, both in the leveling 60-70 process and in the endgame at 70. They cannot simply throw an infinite amount of content at the problem; some amount of ‘forced content reuse’ (aka grinding) is inevitable. Handling it smoothly vs handling it badly is one of the central questions that BC will have to content with.

  6. Very well thought out response.

    Any bets on AA/Alien Levels/etc showing up? I’m thinking they are really likely

  7. From what I understand the content in the expansion will only be lvl 60-70. They are putting in two “starting areas” for the new races which are only supposed to be level 1-20. But I doubt the two newbies zones will have that much better loot the the other starting areas. I don’t really see the expansion having any effect on gear from level 20-56. Some bind on equip drops might be usable by those in the high 50’s but I think thats about it.

    The real question that gets me is will they just give us 10 more talent points or something new. It doesn’t quite seem right if they just gave us 10 more points since they’re a couple of classes that would get a huge boost in power if they could access two talent trees fully.

    relmstein.blogspot.com

  8. Itemization in WoW is based on ilevel. You’ll never seem level 40 greens that have more stats than other level 40 greens. The only time it gets fuzzy is at 60 because they have continued scaling up the ilevel of the gear while keeping the required level at 60. The best blues in the game at level 70 will still (when converting from epic to blue ilevels, epics get more stat allocation) about 30 ilevels lower than Tier 2 epics.

    I would also expect there to be rich questing from 60-70. It’s not going to be a grind as you expect. The level/questing system is integral to Blizzard’s game design and they aren’t just going to *skip* it. They set up at least one and maybe multiple “quest hubs” for each level range, normally covering 2-5 levels. They’re adding land mass about half the size of a current continent, and I’m sure it will be covered top to bottom in quests and quest hubs.

  9. ‘Any bets on AA/Alien Levels/etc showing up? I’m thinking they are really likely’

    God I hope not the rep grinding is more than enough grind already..no need to add something like Funcom did.

    —————–

    To be perfectly honest I am woefully underwhelmed by the announced contents of this expansion. They aren’t adding anything “new”.

    Let’s see Their big deal is this

    New races- Well whoopity doo, since there is essentially no significant difference in the races yay thanks for giving me a new skin so I can play the same classes I already played over again.

    Hell Add some more customization (ok ok.. CoX spoiled me) or god forbid NEW classes instead of taking the cop out of just opening the two side restricted classes (and in the process murdering the background story…Demonic magic using Blood Elves are now Paladins…Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Ghost Rider)

    My other thing is that other than starter ares, there’s been nothing announced for low to midlevel players. Adding soemthing in those areas would make my playing of alts a much more pleasurable experience because atleast for a short while it would be new.

    I’d love to see more class specific type quests..even some small class specific instances made for a single person. It would give each class a uniquness instead of every class doing the same quests in the same instances.

  10. Chichis said:
    “You’ll never see level 40 greens that have more stats than other level 40 greens”

    Like I said, unless they completely buck what every other game has done on an expansion, if they put even one level 40 item in, it will have better stats than every other one prior.

    “I would also expect there to be rich questing from 60-70. It’s not going to be a grind as you expect. The level/questing system is integral to Blizzard’s game design and they aren’t just going to *skip* it.”

    I hope so. I really do. The questing in WoW is why I currently enjoy it. It adds a dimension to the game that isn’t easily replaceable. It’s fun as heck to be swimming around for giggles, suddenly finding a letter on the bottom of the river and end up a half dozen turn ins later commissioning a statue for a friend of IF’s king.

  11. My biggest concern with the expansion is that raiding guilds will be back to the situation that we were at at release — one “big” raid (Molten Core, then) and one “small” raid (Onyxia). They’ve really not made any mention of what, if anything, they plan on doing with the current raid content given level 70 characters. (This may also be something that makes the older content more accessible for more casual players as well, which is a good thing, but not for end-game raiders.)

    Combine this with a gear increase and there are two possible outcomes… the new gear is substantially better than the previous gear, making it even less desirable to do the older raid dungeons; or the gear is only a mediocre upgrade (like most previous gear upgrades, though most of those were all targetted at level 60 characters), thus making it less desirable to do the more “difficult” level 70 raids when similar equipment will be available in BWL/AQ40/Naxx for considerably less risk. Rocky ground ahead for WoW raiding…

  12. I believe Eyonix recently said on the forums that a level 70 player wearing tier-3 would be embaressed when compared to the raid gear available in the expansion. This leads me to believe there will be plenty of raiding in the expansion despite all the promise of single group content.

    From what I hear the expansion will have a lot of dungeons that are divided into wings with the last wing being the smallest but requiring a raid of 20 or 40 people. That way each dungeon will have content for casual and hardcore players. Also this layout might encourage more pick up raids since the raid objective will be next to single group content. Of course most of this is based on E3 interviews and hints from Jeff Kaplan. Who knows how the expansion will be for real.

    relmstein.blogspot.com

  13. Frankly, I hope they DO to some extent trivialise the current endgame. I left the game because I just didn’t enjoy the amount of grinding I was going to have to do to ever meaningfully see the depths of AQ or Molten Core. I’d love to be able to walk in and have a look around without having to first do 20XX runs of the lead-up instances.

  14. I think you have a very narrow EQ view. You basically just said… “WoW’s first expansion will be the same as EQ’s first!”. Lets hold up here and examine some things.

    Everquest evolved into a raiders game and the developers threw every time sink into the book to keep the population they had paying their monthly subs. It wasn’t tough considering the relative small selection of MMORPGs at the time. EQ could screw up big and not suffer badly from it. The playerbase was also considered “capped out” and the idea of “new players en masse” was not on anyone’s mind for an expansion.

    WoW opened the floodgate of new players by doing what they’ve always done… make a polished and finished game with low barriers to entry. What you call “lack of challenge” many players call “my chance to play”. Blizzard never set out to innovate. Blizzard set out to get it right. They got it right for some 6 million players.

    There is a very small % of the population that actually raids in WoW. The majority of players don’t and for good reasons… the barrier to entry is HUGE. Blizzard realized this a long time ago and has played catch up ever since. Planned 40 man raid zones have turned into 20 man raid zones. The expansion is going to insert even more step up raiding content with 10 man dungeons that require raid like coordination. Just like the 5 man dungeson were revamped to be more challenging offering MUCH BETTER REWARDS. Rewards should be based on challenge… not the # of people required to complete the encounter. If you don’t think Blizzard understands this then you are sadly mistaken.

    Blizzard will sell this expansion by showing off all the cool uber gear, rare flying mounts, and other crap that 1% of the population will ever actually attain. Why? Because of the carrot on the stick. The majority of WoW players understand this stuff is out of their reach, but it doesn’t stop making them want to play. This tactic works and Blizzard will continue to sell the expansion this way.

    Blizzard understands their basic quest based gameplay is what the majority of gamers want and Blizzard will deliver this with the expansion. They have no chance of an expansion being succesful if it doesn’t invite in the majority of their players. These players are not going to go out on their level 60’s just to “quest” because there are new quests to do. They are going to go out because they can quest and LEVEL at the same time. There would be no point in making all this content if people didn’t progress somehow while consuming it.

    You have the EQ mindset and Blizzard is catching you hook, line, and sinker. They toss out the purple epicz and you are all over it. Blizzard knows their core audience and knows they don’t have to preach to them. They know the players will come en masse when they deliver the same gameplay that everyone is currently enjoying. What they like to do is appease the EQtards… probably because they EQtards on the development team can’t keep their retarded mouths shut. Its a good thing money talks.

  15. If I gave the impression that WoW’s first expansion will be the same as EQ’s, then I mistyped. That’s not the case. I am, however, afraid that it will be, based on how expansions tend to run. AO, DAoC, EQ all had their first expansion change dramatically the landscape of the original game. The first expansion always involves time sinks, both for normal and high-level (often meaning raiding) play. Be this an intensely nasty exp grind, or a mutli-hour camp for a Pink Foozle that only drops once per 1,000,000 mobs and you need 12.

    The main reason that expansions seem to have time sinks seems to be they don’t have as much time to work on “full” content. You spend 3 years making your main game, and then have to come up with an expansion, which is basically 25%-50% (hopefully, heh) of your game again but in a much stricter timeline. Sure you don’t have to do all the aearly alpha stuff like trying to decide on your engine and the like, but someone still has to go around and make sure the trees touch the ground in the zone. I’ve done that. For hours and hours at a time. Not fun.

    So you cut corners, and you do it in a way that makes sense – you put the players on a treadmill to slow them down, so that content does not burn out. Have to have that revenue stream. Additionally, you want people to buy it, so you make sure the Pointy Sticks in your expansion are now Shiny Point Sticks +1 and make then fairly available. Sure the raider will have Ultra Mega Gleaming Deathblade Stick of Vorpal Sundering +900, but even Captain Casual will have something. A reason for playing.

    I’m trying to think of a good AO example, and the only one I’m coming up with is the pistol from Shadowlands. There’s an easily obtained pistol that can last an adventurer a hundred levels. However, you have to craft or quest (don’t recall which) it in the Shadowlands. It’s better than any other pistol on Rubi-Ka except the ultra rare ones. Carrot.

    I seriously hope WoW can keep its quest-friendly mode come the expansion. As my current game of choice, and a MASSIVE lover of quests, I hope it beyond all hope. It adds flavor to the game, plus some story, lore, or often humor (FIFTY, YEP!). I’m too early to cry that the expansion stinks, but because I wonder if they can take the road less traveled. The shaman/paladin thing in the expansion (another carrot, and easy for anyone!) really makes me think they won’t.

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