A Tale of Three Newbie Experiences

I tried WoW way back during the open beta. I hit all the newbie zones and completed most of them. Surprisingly little has changed in the past four years.

I decided to try the experience three ways. First, we have the completely unaided game. Enter with no pre-reading, no add-ons, no guides, nothing. Play the game as it presents itself and read the quest text. Second, play following a guide. Third, play with a friend under refer-a-friend triple xp, along with an add-on to help locate quest spots.

Before going through those, I want to mention how primitive it felt. I expect that many features have been added through UI mods and add-ons, but the basic WoW game and client have that “so this was cutting edge a generation ago?” feel. Except that it wasn’t, because I kept looking for things that City of Heroes had before WoW launched. WoW has the famous polish, but it is missing things that you expect to be there from other games, little quality of life things that are minor but constant irritants. And then there are the quality of life details that WoW has and why haven’t more games stolen them?

Newbie experience 1: unaided Tauren Hunter. My favorite WoW beta experience was playing a Tauren Druid, and the combination of good memory plus simplistic gameplay means that I could not enter completely unaided. Maybe I should have used an Undead for this one. Still, lets talk about the newbie town, the first six levels, and how this plays.

Enter game, adjust settings. Auto-loot, switch strafe and turn buttons, etc. Am I weird, or all the default settings sub-optimal? I may be weird, as I seem to make those adjustments in most games, but A and D are strafe keys, dangit.

What I remember liking about the early Tauren experience was its stateliness. They get the full-on Noble Savage treatment, Earthmother and all that, and they seem to be in no hurry to get anywhere. The running animation always looks slower on large characters, and then there are the kodo packs in the fields. Those were more or less an early Crowning Moment of Awesome for me. This Tauren is not yet to the kodo, having parked at the first inn.

What was stateliness felt slow here. The Tauren have a wide-open starting area, with non-aggro animals except on one side. There is lots of space, and your mystic contact is on the opposite side from the boar people. This led me to use windowed mode so that I could read something on the tromp across the perfectly safe land.

The early quests are simple but solid. I normally do not care why Bob wants me to kill ten boars — am I collecting meat or hides this time? — but it had a good theme here. It did not feel grindy until the boar people. This was a problem with the quest arrangement: due to some oddity of level/turn-in order, I had to hit the boar cave twice because I did not have all the quests the first time. This inverts the usual annoyance: I killed my way to the boss and back, then had to go back and farm the little guys for the last quest. Didn’t the bunch that I just killed count for something?

This made me look forward to having a guide, so that I would be sure to have all the quests for an area before heading in. I will have a post soon on the explicit WoW theory of “players like seeing lots of gold exclamation points” and how we do quests.

As a note on quests, I like how many you can get on the right side of the screen. City of Heroes limits you to three quests, The Lord of the Rings Online™ displays up to five, and WoW just keeps listing more and more. You start relying on that quest helper more than you know in other games, so I was missing the arrows and map highlights a bit, but it is not as though the directions are opaque. Being forced to look was somewhat positive.

On my first trip into the boar cave, two enemies was not a safe fight. I did not have the Hunter’s DoT yet, so I had very few attacks. Going back at level 4, I actually felt a bit powerful. You know you are going to stomp the first enemy, because it will be deliberately underpowered for your newbie convenience, but being able to trounce the vicious boar people was an early good feeling. It still felt grindy to get the required number, and I was annoyed at the time by the need to backtrack for it, but the stompiness was good.

This zone, like the next newbie experience, ended with a long run. In many ways, this is positive. You get a feeling of distance. You really are leaving the home town and traveling somewhere new. It also gives newbies a chance to catch themselves if they get lost early on, and it keeps recently graduated characters from interfering with the newbs.

Summative assessment: positive but slow. It definitely felt like a gradual introduction.

Newbie experience 2: guided Gnome Mage. This was, frankly, bad. The dwarf/gnome starting area was worse than I remembered, the class was unfortunate in the second town’s level range, and following the guide just made it a more mechanical experience. Add in the failed humor attached to the races, and I would have uninstalled had I not been planning a third newbie experience.

The intro video/camera pan is good. I like that aspect of the WoW introduction: show us the area, and show it live so that I can see a few real players running around.

Welcome to the dwarf lands! Please kill some puppies. “Excuse me?” The wolf pups over there. Kill them. “This is how my epic journey starts, with puppy-cide?” Yes. “Okay.” Wolves, bears, and boars: the early game standards.

The troll cave is the first significant failure. Seriously, kill 14 trolls? 14? I can understand making me repeat something a few times to make sure that I get it, but 14 times? As I said, this was state of the art for the time, moving from pure grinding to quest-based grinding, but 14 while still in the newbie town? And then, to make it worse, you must go back through the trolls again to hit the named troll at the bottom of the cave, even if you already hit that troll on your first run. Does that put me at kill 25? 30? more? There is another quest to get boxes and such from other troll camps, which I could have stacked with “kill 14,” but I was following my guide, which sent me there after the boss troll.

I do not know if that was a guide failure, but then the guide also told me to finish grinding a level at some points so that I could get or sanely complete quests. Sometimes, that meant one more kill. Other times, it meant half a level. Let’s be honest, the guide is near-to-useless in the tiny dwarf starter area, where the quest chain is clear and simple.

Is this a good time to note the limited pack space? That backpack is tiny, and you must carry all your food, quest items, and any crafting bits there. My newbies found variable numbers of sacks, from 0 to 3, and the lack of space really hurts. My newbie Hunter also ran out of ammo; the free ammo pouch helps, and I tossed in 2000 ammo so I could forget about that annoyance. Quality of life feature for every game: don’t fill my bags with quest items, just have a checklist or something for them. I mention this now in the discourse because the gnome asks for items from three campfires around the trolls. If you are also collecting hides for some quests, maybe a book for another, carrying someone’s mail, plus you have a hearthstone, food, water… how much space did I have again?

The run out of the dwarf starter town has enemies, although I could probably have run past them. Again, the distance is good.

Is the Mage famously lousy at low levels or something? My Hunter ran out of ammo once, but I never worried about mana. My Mage went through the blue bar like nothing. By the second leveling area, I was sitting after every enemy. It is very polite to give me that water-summoning spell, but I need all that water. One enemy led to 18 seconds of sitting, waiting for the water and rest to refill half my bar. Two enemies emptied me, so I needed two waters, a muffin, and 36 seconds.

I get that downtime facilitates social cohesion in MMOs, and again that this was a state-of-the-art improvement over staring at a spellbook. 36 seconds to go from empty to full, hey, big reduction in forced downtime. Modern games remove the “sit” key and give you pretty ridiculous out-of-combat recovery, because waiting 18 seconds between enemies is not fun. We can debate the merits of the “constant action” approach, but that is a lot of waiting in one’s solo time.

Despite that, I was often waiting on respawn while hunting animals. Maybe I should have wandered further, but I could depopulate an area pretty easily despite the downtime. I do not want to be swarmed by snow jaguars, but two people empty everything pretty quickly.

That became a larger problem at Gnomeregan. Either Rogues are really awesome or that guy was twinked out nicely, because someone ran through, aggroed the area, and more or less two-shot them all down. Stab stab, stab stab, stab stab. At least he must have finished that quest quickly. Bodies were everywhere.

I know you can skin the animals with the right trade skill, but can you do anything to the humanoid corpses, say scavenging? The things you wonder as a newb.

Another good WoW feature comes up here: enemies and bodies note the quest relationship upon mouse-over. If you need to hunt boars, point at a boar, and it will mention if it is related to a quest you are on. If you have ever been in a game where you needed Black Specter Boars instead of Gloomy Specter Boars (or something), you know how nice it is to have this defined.

And now I rag on the flavor of the area. Gnomes are all mad scientists and silly little people, teehee! And the dwarves are silly drunks or over-proud Scots! Chuckle at how the short people are comic relief! We will bribe a dwarf with beer as we play a beer-related prank as a break from quests that have us gathering brewing ingredients. Then we can gather gears for gnomes and cannon shot for dwarves, because the dwarves make things explode on purpose while the gnome do it on accident. Because they’re mad scientists!

I made it to level 10 in two sessions on the same day. I recall some kind of fishing trainer around here somewhere…

Using a leveling guide made the experience even more mechanical. This is a horrible way to experience an area for the first time, and it is only marginally better when you half-remember why you are doing all these quests. You can still take your time, explore, and read the quest text, but the guide feels like a constant pressure, urging you to keep going going going, next next next, progress! Frankly, I am long past caring why these guys want me to kill 10 boars, but reading about why these trolls and wendigo are here is potentially interesting.

The main mechanical feelings comes from a lack of “why” on the order, not the quests themselves. I need to remember to read ahead on this thing to get a notion of why I am heading to the next town instead of killing those 10 boars. Oh, the next town will also have a quest for the same boars, and I can get a delivery quest for when I drop off this boar quest. And I am putting off this troll quest because the bear spawn is by a ramp up to the trolls, check.

Is it a bad sign that I remember Shimmer Ridge? I remember conversations from ten years ago, so remembering the baskets by the troll Seers is not a huge thing. I remember the first elite enemy in the Dwarf area, not too much further along, and how my Dwarf Hunter soloed it during beta after someone else failed to and left me a wounded, de-tagged elite that I finished in two shots. I do not know if that would work anymore under existing tagging and resetting rules.

Summative assessment: not a positive experience. While the Tauren ran slow, the slowness here comes from sitting 18 seconds between enemies. Killing two at a time is not a problem, but the 36 seconds afterward is. The entire second and third town areas feel like a mass of repeatedly farming the same kinds of things in larger numbers than is fun. I am hoping that this is the worst experience in the game.

As I mentioned at the start, I was considering quitting at this point. I expected to be told that I should stick it out because the 70-80 content is awesome or the real game begins at the level cap. (I recall the 60-70 leveling being described as Purgatory, except for the awesome loot upgrades, but that might have been from people who sent multiple characters through the 60-70 content successively after the expansion came out.) I Googled /played times to 80, and I saw leveling guides advertising that they could get your leveling time down to 6 days. Let’s be generous and assume 7 days is possible for a first-time character with no existing resources. That would be a full month of 6-hour days to get to the “real game,” under optimistic assumptions. I am glad we are not having that discussion, because I call that kind of thing “a job,” and I do not pay to attend my workplace.

Newbie experience 3: triple-xp Night Elf Druid. Druids are massively OP, right, out-tanking tanks, out-damaging the DPS, and out-healing Priests? I do not know how well the value of a hybrid has held up under dual talent specs, but I thought I would start with the reputed easy mode. The fellow who referred me had a busy week and took a few days to play at all, so my first choice was my last newbie experience.

Before leaving the newbie town, my quest rewards included a halter top and tight leather shorts. Yep, night elf.

Triple xp is nice. Everything I said earlier about how slow it felt? No. I leveled so quickly that I could not always buy all my skills, and I was considering subscribing so that I could be traded/mailed money. When I compared how we were doing to the guide at various points, I noted that is said “grind to level x if necessary” when I was already level x+2. There are many sins that can be forgiven by over-stimulating the Achiever aspects and keeping things moving quickly. It does not matter if I need to kill 14 of these things when they are green by the time I get to them, and I can skip them if I like because I have quests to spare with all this xp flowing in.

Next time we do this, we will have Quest Helper, because things move too fast to keep track of. The guide is useless if I out-level it, and who really needs a guide when I can rampage through an area, turn in whatever quests I stumbled through on the way, then move on because I have all the levels I need from an area? I can explore at a run, binge instantly, and move on. Superstimulus has never been so fun, and can I ever go back?

A major difference was playing as a pair rather than solo. Converting “kill 14” to “kill 7 each” (or otherwise halving enemies lifespans) is a big reduction in grindiness. And at triple xp, killing anything is always worthwhile, so who cares if you hit a few extra boars when you were supposed to have switched to kitties?

This highlights a problem: collection quests. If you are supposed to pick up 10 things, the area seems to have been designed for one person picking up 10 things. If you have a group and need 20 to 50 things, you will be waiting a long time. (For the worst example I have ever seen, see the wood troll quest line in western Evendim, The Lord of the Rings Online™.) This is also a problem when the quest is to get things from enemy corpses rather than just killing them. Collect 10 spider silk, check. Oh, the spiders seem to have a 50% chance to drop one. It looks like Kill Ten Spiders, but because you are paired and the drop rate is not 100%, it is Kill Forty Spiders. Ouch.

On that note, I can get one feather per owl at most? How badly am I mangling this corpse if I cannot always get a single feather per owl? No wonder the night elves are having problems keeping in touch with nature, if they kill a dozen owls to get six feathers.

On the positive side, achievements do not ask for this kind of nonsense. City of Heroes wants me to kill 300 boss-level enemies, The Lord of the Rings Online™ wants several million hit points worth of giants, Wizard101 wants 100 or more undead, Team Fortress 2 wants 1000 assists, and even my flash-based farming game on Facebook has trophies for watering plants 5000 times. As far as I have read, most WoW achievements want you to do a lot of things once rather than the same thing 10,000 times.

Proceeding at a run, the newbie night elf experience was a fun, frantic trip. Kill boars, fine, deliver some things for people, hey I leveled again. There’s a grell and some grellkin! “What’s a grell?” Who cares? Wham wham wham, ding! Spider spider spiders, ding, drop things off, more spiders, ding. Time to rampage to the next area! Giant animals, animal people, some kind of plant/earth elemental: great! Wham wham wham, ding! Being an adventurer is basically mass murder with loot attached, and the quests guide us between groups of victims.

The content seems designed for solo players who might be a level below the enemies. We are a pair, a level or two above the enemies. Wham wham wham, ding! The most entertaining was the cave with Ambushers and the Relics of Wakening. “Let’s jump down there!” You are not meant to aggro more than five or six at a time. We survived, though, combining Rogue DPS with Druid DoTs and HoTs.

This was about the point when we completely lost track of what was going on. The second night elf town fully embraces gold exclamation point spam, so we left with about ten quests. The enemies outside were a quest, the quests inside were a quest, some guy in there reportedly had a quest that we did not find, we might have run by some quest things on the way there or back… At some point, we left the quest chain and went with that “rampage” theory I explained earlier. Head from A to B, wipe out as much as possible in between, and sell when you run out of space.

I ran out of space quickly, because I hit level 12 without finding a single bag. My partner found exactly one. This is again one of those moments when subscribing for trading sounds like a good idea, since buying bags instead of skills does not sound like a good idea.

This rampage highlights a distinction between novelty and Exploration. This is definitely a theme park with a guided line, second-cousin to a rail shooter, with very little sandbox at this point. Seeing new things at Disney World does not feel like exploring. Moving at rampage speed lets us see all the novelties before the new shininess fades, although it does show you just how many minor variations on wildlife there are. No no, these are grizzled wolves, not wolves or wolf pups. The level is higher, and the model is tweaked in ways you will not notice during its six-second lifespan.

When your rampage leads you off the rails, however, that feels like exploring. Hey, I found a chest in this cave. Ooh, silver bar. Ooh, another chest, and this one has some kind of relic in it. Great, I have a quest for that relic. I need three more; they are probably somewhere else in this cave; knives out, let’s go looking. There is a more reasonable way to go about this, but who cares?

We explored the first cave (spiders) the same way. “Let’s jump down there!” I no longer know which way is in or out. “Here’s the plan on this boss,” the Rogue says, not realizing that he is about to walk off a ledge. That boss is up a ramp, but conveniently, we are now on that ramp. Rampage!

Some days, I want that stately, solo Tauren pace. I will harvest an animal’s flesh to nourish my tribe and give thanks to the spirits. For pure fun, however, nothing beats getting together with a friend or seven and just rolling across fields of foes faster than you can keep track of the plan. We need that quest helper to guide us back after we rampage way off course. “Where do we turn all these in?”

Summative assessment: strongly positive. A fast pace makes you forgive many sins. If something stops being fun, ignore it and rampage on; we have experience points to spare, and we do not need to grind anything to get that level so we can finish the quest chain.

I contrast this with our Casualties static group in The Lord of the Rings Online™. We have frequently reached points where not everyone can get every quest because of level restrictions. We must change plans for the rest of the night, level for a while, then come back another week to finish. With triple xp, that is not going to be a problem. The only problem is that we get triple xp as a pair, so this is a two-man rampage. If we had a group, no one else could keep up.

I guess we can catch up with his guild, assuming I pay to go past level 20. With triple xp until level 60, I might be able to reduce that time-to-80 to 5 or 6 days /played, which is only 4 or 5 hours per night, every night, for a month.

What was that my wife said about never seeing me again? Ooh, new trade skills to try…

: Zubon

8 thoughts on “A Tale of Three Newbie Experiences”

  1. Interesting. I remember enjoying the slow pace of the tauren quests when I first started also.

    One thing I remembered reading this. Back in the day, if I’d just completed a quest somewhere and got another quest to go back and kill mobs I’d just seem, I was much more likely to think, “Oo, cool! I know where those are!!” and happily run back. Now, like you, I’d be more likely to feel annoyed that the game wanted me to go and do something I’d already done.

  2. They’ve been playing around a lot with spell costs and mana regen trying to balance it at endgame, and it’s really done a number on casters trying to level up. In the old days, mana wasn’t an issue at all until level ten or so, and not a big deal after that; not so anymore.

  3. all the default settings in all these games seem to bwe suboptimal. I mean, who DOESN’T want auto loot on? Honestly? I can’t think of anyone. So if the majority would like the feature on, why set the game so it’s off by default? No common sense.

  4. @Bhagpuss, I’m pretty sure this all just comes down to taste. The fact that you like inventory management baffles me, but I can understand your other points though I don’t necessarily agree.

    I have a completest compulsion, and so I like to “finish” an area – I don’t want to miss anything that might be cool. So I also don’t skip many quests, because although the first part might be a drag, who knows if the last part is great? You can probably understand that if this is the way I’m approaching the game, I’m going to be annoyed when I’m “forced” to do a really boring quest to “complete” the area. I do skip a lot of quests, but I consider those quests to be failures of the game rather than neutral features. Likewise, the speed with which someone likes to progress varies – you and I don’t care much about how slow we’re progressing (within reason), but others care a great deal.

    Also, I don’t think MMOs are “about stereotypes,” but I don’t think they’re “about” nuanced characters either. I think the type of characters that populate an MMO are completely tangential to what MMOs are “about.” I might prefer fantasy stereotypes or a nuanced characters, but that’s not even the most important feature of MMOs to me and I could probably enjoy an MMO that included both or neither as long as it was otherwise enjoyable. However if someone plays MMOs primarily for the lore or the quality of the storyline, then I could certainly understand them caring a great deal more about those things.

    I don’t think these come down to rational decisions – it’s just doing what we’re individually inclined to do. That’s why there’s more than one MMO, ’cause different people value different things.

  5. The Draenei and Blood Elf starting areas are so much better than any of the other races and flow a lot more naturally. I’m really looking forward to seeing what Cataclysm does to shake things up!

  6. Very interesting little experiment. I laughed outright at your night elf powerleveling description. Seems you have hit the nail on the head as to some of the strengths and weaknesses here, though. I would be interested in seeing your take on the next phase of leveling, the slightly higher-level but still racially-segregated phase of levels 10-20. And have you thought of doing a similar experiment with any other MMOs? Lord of the Rings Online, Everquest 2, Guild Wars, Warhammer Online?

  7. The triple XP part sounds more like Diablo than an MMO, which is not a bad thing as far as gaming goes because Diablo is damn good fun, but it’s not exactly “MMO fun” IMO. Plus since Diablo is designed around aimless mass slaughter, it has more systems (random loot, random spawns, random maps) to keep you going, while an MMO will be static at all times.

  8. On mages: yes, they’re pretty notoriously underpowered before level 20. I’ve only spent much time on a gnome mage, so I can’t speak to other types of mages, but I found that the mid-teens were the most grindy. Now, that’s also because the geographical procession planned, if you will, mainly for those starting in the Ironforge area, tends to hit a lull in the mid-teens as well. I’ve noticed this with my mage (rolled twice on different servers) and my hunter (same). But my fiance’s main, who is a mage, and my own mage, both just got friends to help them through those awkward teen years.

Comments are closed.