Despite the thorn-vine airlock on the edge of the Hellfire Peninsula, the transition is rather jarring. You move from a devastated plain of red to an azure woodland of giant mushrooms. I accept this as a part of being in a shattered dimension beyond the Dark Portal and move on.
The visuals here are great. It is an above-ground underwater zone, with flying manta rays and ridiculously huge, hovering jellyfish. They must be gas-filled to stay up like that. Combine it with an above-ground underground zone, as there are giant mushrooms, mushroom grottos, mushroom people…
Somewhere in that process it goes downhill. This is the reverse of the Hellfire Peninsula: the initial impression is great, but it quickly becomes wearying and tedious, despite the lack of boars.
The beasts are the highlight of the zone. The flying water creatures are great, although you get past the immediate simian reaction to seeing impressively large things. There are glowing bugs, sporebats that are fun stapled to buffs, land and sea hydrae, and swarming piranhas. Hmm, beasts were a big highlight of the last zone too, so maybe I just like whoever they have designing Outland beasts.
The naga are fine opponents, entirely appropriate to Outland and this watery zone in particular. They sadly have the feel of already having been done, given little change apparent in their models, powers (calling slaves is a nice touch), or modus operandi from classic WoW. I like the big plot implied with the huge drain in the center, and swimming through it to an instance door is another nice touch. Sadly, good luck finding a group for it, so I will explore that plot another day. And then, half-way through the zone, their story is over, next enemy group. Well that was abrupt. (Revelation at 70: Oh, Lady V, that’s where you’re hiding!)
The assorted mushroom guys are neat at first, tedious by the end. Bog Lords, Withered Giants, and all that are neat a few times, especially before your simian brain accepts that the 20-foot-tall giants are not any tougher than a same-level sporebat. There is some kind of fungal civil war and cannibalism going on, great. But it does not change across the zone. The same guys you see on the east end are on the west end, with a color shift and a level adjustment. It feels like running the same quest six or ten times as you hit the same few guys under their many names.
The beasts also repeat as you go across the zone, leveling from Lesser Sporebats to Sporebats to Greater Sporebats. Hey, that makes sense, but it means I have the exact same things to fight for my entire time in the zone, especially since this happens to all the other beasts as well. The Hellfire Peninsula was a constant sea of novelty as its many sub-zones had their own new foes and models. You meet all the new guys here within the first few quests.
I know that I am a big advocate for making the tutorial awesome, on the grounds of hooking the audience in a competitive marketplace, so front-loading the expansion pack for early buzz is perfectly in line with what I keep saying. Give me the good stuff right now, so I have a reason to keep going. But it looks bad if you run out of it a quarter of the way through the second zone. I know the next zone over will have more new toys, but I no longer know whether to expect a continuing string of awesomeness or just an occasional dollop as each zone starts.
Is that unfair, given the broken Draenei? Maybe I already consumed their newness by visiting Shattrath or by being familiar with the expansion pack race plan, but they look just like the ones in Warcraft 3. (I later found them in classic WoW zones, too.) That makes sense, it is nice to see the familiar Warcraft content, all those things granted, but it takes away the newness. It really is nice to see them after meeting the majestic goat aliens who replaced them as the true Draenei. They do not appear all that much in this zone, just a few quests quickly done for and against them.
The “for them” is the other part of the wearying nature of the zone. We (Alliance) have three different factions to grind here: the mushroom people, the Kurenai, and the Cenarion folk. While making new friends is fun, a player seeing this is less than a week past the level 60 classic WoW reputation grinds that use the same pattern of repeatable quests and farmed items, and here is a set of three rocks to push up that faction hill. And do they even matter after Wrath of the Lich King? The Sporregar line properly inspires pity: you want to help and protect the little guys (or at least I do, maybe you want to smash them). But I have no reason to think I will ever see them again after this zone, so how much time do I want to spend making friends with mushrooms that never call or visit? This also reinforces the previous problem with repetitive enemies: if Bog Lords became tedious just crossing the zone and seeing their various incarnations, how bad will it get farming them for quests and turn-ins?
Ending on an up note, I like the ogre camp. Something feels right about having a bunch of dumb ogres felling trees, even if the trees are giant mushrooms in this case. I don’t know if the ogre magi staffs and shoulders are new, but they look good, and they are used little enough to make them feel new here. As you go further into the camp, the shadowy ogre magi look good with that demonic touch. I have yet to find the purpose of that elite in the cave that I killed, but he feels like the kind of guy who has a story, so maybe someone will tell me to re-kill him sometime.
Because that makes sense in an MMO.
Friends or better with the three zone factions, quest and exploration achievements done, next zone! Zangarmarsh was worth 1.5 levels entering at 54, so I suspect that I will be skipping some Burning Crusade zones entirely in this leveling process. (View from 70: yup!)