I have completed a run through what was the mid-game of classic WoW, levels 20 to 40 Alliance side. our last installment ended around level 22. That would make 40 to 60 the classic late-game, with content at 60 having been the endgame back in the day. I suppose the mid-game has shifted to where I am just entering, but until I add Burning Crusade, I am playing classic WoW, darnit. Except for my frostweave bags, many huggles for my frostweave bags.
When we last left the Paladin, she was exulting in having gone from very strong to overpowered with the taunt/Exorcism pull combo. (Our friend Tobold has just entered there.) It gets more extreme in the 20 to 40 range.
Part of that is the zones: Duskwood and Ashenvale. Duskwood is dominated by a graveyard, and half the enemies are undead. Exorcism automatically crits against undead and demons. I was approaching level 30 by the time I visited Ashenvale, which made the first half irrelevant, and the second half is mostly demons.
I completed quests then stuck around to slaughter infernals just because I could. Having played through the Warcraft RTS games, I think of infernals as juggernauts of destruction, the sort of thing where you either concentrate all your fire or run the heck away. The WoW version is suitably impressive, towering overhead and tromping about somewhat comically. And then I taunt-nuke-hammer-dead. With bad luck, I needed to swing my melee weapon twice.
This is probably the point at which I should be calling for infernals to always be elites and keeping them scary, but I really enjoyed my evening of demon-crushing. (I was going to write “demon-hunting,” but let’s be honest.) If they were elites, I would still have done it, since I have learned that I can solo elites on a Paladin, and elite demons would just be easier.
This is also the point at which we note how easy it is to manipulate our simian brains. Mechanically, the infernal was the same thing as a goblin or a wolf. It might have had a trick or two that it did not get to use in its 5 seconds of existence, but the wolf could have the same with a different special effect. If the demon sets you on fire, that is a DoT, and the wolf could have a bleed. If it curses you with weariness, that is a slow, and the wolf could hamstring you. If we make it an elite, that is just a few larger numbers, are there are elite wolves out there. But making the model a giant, flaming rock monster with slightly goofy animations makes the whole experience feel so much more awesome.
Size and coloring do the same job. I completed the Wetlands quests: crocolisks, meh. I completed the Dustwallow Marsh quests: crocolisks that are five foot high at the shoulder, whoa. Do those things shrink instantly if you tame one as a Hunter? Raptors come to mind on the coloring note, since they have a surprising diversity of tones. Stranglethorn Value brought that in to focus with the bright purple ones and their pale blue boss.
What really made me want to level a Hunter was the intersection of those two in the giant turtles. Giant, tusked turtles with pink spines along the bases of their shells? Awesome. And they did not auto-aggro, so you could take the time to enjoy them before smashing them for a few small pieces of the corpse. The Lord of the Rings Online™ has its over-powered turtles, and I think having awesome turtles is/would be a great gaming tradition. Turtle power!
Let’s go back to being over-powered for a moment. The life of a Paladin in the mid-levels is starting very strong and watching more pieces fall into place. Between skills and the Retribution talents, I received a steady stream of small damage increases that mostly stacked, combined with survivability increasers and downtime decreasers. The only thing I am missing is that Glyph of Exorcism to let me kill the demons without bothering to swing my axe. You also get a suite of interesting abilities that you never use while soloing because the base options are just that powerful. It is like the first-person shooters where they give you thirty guns but you only need the combat shotgun, rocket launcher, and sniper rifle.
It looks like I will be eliminating downtime by level 42. For the cost of one major glyph and three talent points (granted, with 30 already in Retribution), I will get 25+3+8% of my mana back every time I hit with the magic hammer from the sky. I can use that every 10 seconds, every 8 seconds for two more talent points. Self-healing has never been an issue. Even if I end a fight at 1% health and mana, I should be able to smite a critter and be ready for the next fight in 5 seconds. You can get that 8% glyph at the start of these mid-levels, and ending with the rest is nice.
As one last note before moving back to the leveling/zone discussion, this level range seems to assume that you are an alt rather than a newbie. Or rather, there are many tools that a first-time player would see but not be able to enjoy. A Paladin gets the level 20 riding skill free with a discounted horse, so that is affordable, but the level 40 riding skill is not free unless you wait until the level 60 quest. 40 gold at level 40, plus the mount cost? Even having received gold from kind guildmates, I had levels where I could not buy all my skills immediately, and I did not even visit the auction house before level 40. The class trainer also offers you dual-talents at level 40, for the discount cost of 1000 gold. And the newbie says, “lol?”
As I mentioned, huggles to the frostweave bags that eliminate almost all my space issues. I do not want to think about what The Green Hills of Stranglethorn must have been like back in the day. You have how much pack space for a quest involving 15 drops? 15? I was very happy to have found 13 plus duplicates, so a few minutes in the auction house let me finish the quest, remain cost-neutral, and mail half a set to an alt for future use.
The Wetlands shared with Stranglethorn a raptor-specific issue common everywhere: being very particular about the name of things you kill. I want you to kill 20 raptors, but it must be 10 of each of these two types. Good job, now I want you to kill 20 more, of these two types, some of which you had to wade through for the previous quest. Good job, now… “I just killed thirty of those, does that count? Hello? I need a button to let me tell you that. And their boss, yes, I killed the named one twice. Please don’t make me go back again. Look, I brought (two of) his corpse because I did not know if you’d want his claw, his head, or an amulet he swallowed.”
Awesomeness things in the Wetlands included a curse that made the player undead, the first Alliance-side raptors, and the first neutral-faction goblin merchant. That last guy is like a tiny piece of foreshadowing sitting at the crossroads in a swamp.
Duskwood is a lot of fun. WoW zombies seem more like D&D ghouls: swift-moving and clawed corpse-devourers. Nice touches there include brain-eating curses, exploding into flesh-eating worms, and dropping nightcrawlers. Gamers, we love our zombies. (Zombie turtle pirates? Ooh…) The Worgen quests seem a bit more relevant, although I wonder how much ret-con will be happening there. Stitches is insane, but I was warned enough to run in terror. The zone starts a bit slowly with early quests for wolves and spiders, just yards away from the undead party.
Hillsbrad includes a set of quests where the quest-giver mocks the quests. Murlocs, he says, why are we fighting overgrown fish? It is bad form to have the quest-giver say, “This is a waste of your time, but do it anyway.” Did we have a disgruntled developer who was annoyed with his boss for telling him to use the murlocs? Was it meant as an in-joke, wink nudge, like LotRO’s boar-hunting quests in the late-added Evendim and Lothlorien?
Hillsbrad and environs is also where I got my first serious PvP action. I am on a PvP server by invitation, which mostly means that level 80s occasionally roll through and gank all the noobs. In a few spots, Alliance and Horde share some quest targets, so we were fighting each other for the resource (and because, hey, enemy). The tendency to keep coming back is amusing for the winner, annoying for the loser who just wants to finish his quest so he can go. Can you really trust the enemy not to hit you while your back is turned? At one spot, I happened upon a fellow Alliance member, and we teamed to share kills just before two Horde members arrived. 31 and 36 vs two 33s. We won, especially since they did not see the stealthed 31 until too late. They came back, repeat. Repeat. They came back with a third: same. Repeat, and they got my smaller partner that time. Repeat before we could fully refill health and mana, and they got him again. Refill, and they came back with a fourth, level 39. We got one or two of them. And then we did what we all could have to begin with: wait 5 minutes for them to finish while turning in our other quests, then go back for the completely free camp.
That was the only time I had seen to many players congregated outside a town, apart from the bugged Deadmines entrance. Which, I will note, seems perfectly fixed now. Unless the Horde has a quest line in the same area, I have never competed with more than one person for kills, and we can usually group and share. Contrarily, I have never grouped with more than one person to share progress, so there have been no team efforts. It is a mostly empty world, and I am glad to have a guild chat channel to give it a bit of life outside the constant advertising in the big cities.
The population distribution of the world may be dramatically skewed towards “adventurer,” but in classic WoW, the guards and farmers still outnumber us. The guards outnumber the farmers, and the bandits outnumber them, which may lead to some long-run productivity issues, but we should be fine since no one needs to eat.
In a different sense of lonely, some of the Hillsbrad quests send you north a zone. One of those sends you to a town to slay spies. Spies stealth, so that must be an ugly quest without the Human perception bonus. Having cleared one of the houses, I paused to regen and sort through loot, and my ears were filled with the stealth sound effect as enemies spawned or wandered outside the building. It was like something out of a horror film. You walk into town, and there is no one there. You can see a wizard or two through the buildings’ doorways, but it is an empty town square with a fountain … and invisible assassins.
Dustwallow Marsh brings in Jaina Proudmoore, another treat for Warcraft 3 players. You also get some Tauren action, which is good because I had found every other Horde race as NPCs on the other continent. A quest chain there ends with a giant sea monster, level skull, with the player firing artillery at it. Kind of a neat set piece, and the margin of error is large enough to give you time to figure out what you’re doing, although I wonder if it is so large that you could win without figuring that out. Mechanically it works perfectly, but it is not a terribly satisfying piece as you click your god-mode weapon against some incomprehensibly huge foe for an easy win.
This is the zone where I saw my other PvP action, this time on the losing side against a Hunter. Being down three levels there, I suspected that was the factor in my earlier win: levels. Beyond a narrow range, it hardly seems worth trying. That is one reason I have yet to visit a battleground. Twinking is another: I am wearing quest gear plus a few instance drops, while I expect experienced players’ alts to have the best equipment possible, plus several years’ worth of experience. Not exactly a level playing field. A friend used to rock the battlegrounds with his “perfect 39,” what was then a character with the best possible PvP stats for his level.
Oh, and if you are that Hunter, the fight was my fault, and I should apologize if you were not going to bother me. We both got to a neutral quest NPC at the same time, and I accepted the quest without reading so I would have time to react to this new threat. That quest was about zapping slimes, where the player is energized by nearby objects. All I knew is that a Horde Hunter dismounted next to me, her pet appeared, and lightning started zapping me from nowhere. Attack, panic, aagh!
After hitting level 40 and being disappointed about that “40 gold” thing, I decided to earn the last of it in Stranglethorn Vale, where my quests were rapidly aging. Turns out, I had out-leveld the starter quest for the Big Game Hunter chain, but I knew it was there from the achievement page and Richard Bartle’s well-known discussion (it became a discussion when others picked up the thread). If you have not looked at the achievement page for classic WoW quests, there are three items: 750 on each island and the Stranglethorn Vale set. This makes that Nessingway camp the only quest for which everyone gets a recommendation. I did not guess that it was pointed out for its laboriousness rather than its quality.
That quest chain is work, not fun. I think Scott Jennings has the better of the argument there: the level spread of the quests, combined with the specificity of the “kill 10” quests and the inability to jump in at the level-relevant point, makes it a lot of effort to get to where anything interesting might be. I might have gone insane without QuestHelper guiding me to the right areas. “No, these panthers have the wrong name.” Part of this was starting at level 40, when most of it was already gray, although I cannot say if it would be more or less irritating to start three quest chains and need to finish them over a week as I gained levels. “Oh look, I can go back to that zone again for another couple of quests.” Prof. Bartle describes it as a trap for players, but I do not pay for the privlege of bring trapped or doing work.
On the other hand, he is absolutely right about the design in terms of taking players across the island. Start at the top, go down, come back, go a bit further, come back, go a bit further, come back. The very first quest you get in the zone is to go all the way down to the tip, so the entire zone is a huge tease, and QuestHelper reinforces this by showing you the quest destination all the way down at the end. I am usually annoyed by running back and forth, but this is good.
The boss fight on that quest is a pretty straightforward tank and spank. Conveniently, a Paladin can cover the tanking, healing, and DPS roles all at once, so I soloed the quest recommended for 3, below the quest level. I did it twice because I had earlier stumbled on the boss, took the elite as a challenge, and defeated him before finding the quest. We’ve already been over that problem. We have also been over the problem of how you would find all the named animals without QuestHelper.
I declared it a PvP-free zone. Not everyone agreed with me on that, but apart from a few level skulls on their newbie-crushing rampages, we all emoted to each other and carried on. The zone is work enough on its own without in-fighting. I did not know the /truce emote existed. I wonder how many others had that moment of panic as we rode past each other. I saw one Horde Druid, the poor fellow five levels below me, instantly dismount and go into cat form as I came upon him. I /waved and rode on before his energy bar filled up. Besides, it was a fishing competition day, and I am not going to mess with someone’s fishing for the chance of a few honor points. I mean, I certainly will, but not in Stranglethorn, and not during a fishing event. You can see how fishing events could become a bit more dynamic with PvP enabled, though.
Fighting the jungle warriors is a pretty standard “attack enemy camp” quest, with a few layers of “kill 10” and “collect 10,” leading to “kill the boss” and “click the thing in his base.” There is a very nice bit, in that you must save one of the quest-givers who is under attack by NPCs. There is no indication that he is a quest giver. I just decided to save the allied NPC who was fighting enemy NPCs, and lo he actually thanked me and had something to say. I am used to accepting the stylized mechanics of the game, and it is pleasantly surprising when they reflect something like reality, like finding a food crate you can click on in the crates.
For all the other quests in the upper part of the zone: what were you thinking? I had QuestHelper directing me towards the four troll stories, and forgive me if I forgot something in the days between accepting the quest and doing it, but was there anything indicating that one was in the sea, down in a murloc camp? Again, finding them must have been pure liquid Hell. Getting the troll totems was not bad, but there were not very many troll mystics, and it faces the usual problem of “collect x items” rather than “kill y enemies” for groups, where grouping makes “kill y” faster but “collect x” slower. And then the quest level jumps to 46 for the next quest. Seriously? It was not bad enough to spread the Big Game Hunter quests over a huge level range, you must have one chain that goes beyond that range on either end?
We have already been over the problem of the quest to find 15 different, specific pages. Is this what Kingdom of Loathing was making fun of, or was that a generic CRPG joke? Again, it is a mark of accepting the mechanics over reality that it took me a day to realize I had found the same page multiple times. Mechanically, that makes perfect sense, and you can trade pages with other players. We do that all the time with legendary books in The Lord of the Rings Online™ Volume One: Shadows of Angmar™. Realistically, how did I find four copies of the same page from one book?
I ended by making the ride down to Booty Bay on my shiny new Charger. Glowing magic pony! Let me just say: goblins are adorable with awesome mixed in. They are tiny green people with attitude, and the females are possibly even cuter little squeaky things than female Gnomes. They ride around on exaggerated, smoking mechs that they use for lumbering. They explode for no good reason. They have floppy ears. I like Goblins.