Thursday, July 24, 2008

From Ebon Hold to the Borean Tundra

First off, let me explain.... Blizzard maintains their reputation based on the extensive hard work of the people who beta test their products. For those of you who are used to the way their products are when they go GA (general availability), beta testing is a whole new world. The beta's only been open for a bit, and its some days very very frustrating. Its definitely not for the faint of heart.

1. Early stages of a beta are riddled with crashes. This isn't a bad thing. It means that Blizzard gets to see what happens to their code when the rubber meets the road and real players are doing dumb things.
2. Not all of the features are live. Not all of the professions etc are fully implemented yet.... so you may have your pet profession and NO way to play with it yet.
3. People get bitchy... sorry but its a fact. There are lots of people out there who have no idea what it means to beta test and they seem SURPRISED when the world server goes down.

Now let me say, Blizzard is still a bright ray of sunshine.... there is a very nice thing they did to make sure you have lots of things to do. The Deathknight area is VERY stable. I have yet to see it crash. So while you are waiting for the reboot of the world server, you can sit down for a nice cup of tea with the Lich King and talk about the state of the world. So here we go... on to....

Ebon Hold
First of all, let me preface this.... I'm NOT a fan of dark classes. Its a personal hang up of mine. I WON'T play a warlock. The reason is because I have problems playing what I deem "evil" characters. Like I said, its a personal hang up of mine. So that taints my experience some... however, that being said, I'm a raid leader and I need to understand how deathknights are going to play out in the expansion. So here we go.

First of all, Blizzard is going to get some major kudos here. The technologies that they leveraged to get it all to work are amazing. They used something similar to Bashir's Landing up in BEM. You know the quests for Mana Cells where you pop into a different phase? They basically did that by about x10. I don't want to ruin the story. Its an amazingly well done story. From that perspective this really takes me back to the Old world content where they had some very well done story chains. You start out with one view of the world. Periodically, they progress the story and you "shift" perspectives on the world. Typically this is done by forcing you to turn in a quest at Ebon Hold. When you return, the world has moved into the next phase. Suddenly you are in a different phase. All of the people are in different spots, the buildings may be destroyed or other things. However behind the scenes people are still working seamlessly on the original content. There are no load screens. Nothing at all... its extremely well done and implemented.

Ebon Hold is beautiful. The architecture is very well done. Its a multi tier floating fortress really. However you have to periodically come back here for the rest of your career to train and to reforge your runes on swords. So you'll get to see it a lot.

Now for the mechanics of the deathknight let me say, I'm not a big fan of how it is today. Now bear in mind it will change potentially a LOT between now and later so I'll periodically go back and do it all over again for a new perspective. You basically have runes and runic energy. Runes work kind of like energy (sort of). You get two frost, two blood and two pestilence runes. Certain abilities use certain amounts/types of runes and they rebuild over time. Runic Power (not to be confused with Runes) functions like Rage... you build it up over time and certain spells take runic power to cast. So as you can imagine you now have to watch both things... what a PITA. You start off with a small number of spells so its really not all that great of a start. You only have about four or five abilities and they are all completely weak because you don't have any talent points. Talent points get fixed shortly and as you progress the story line, but overall its annoying from my perspective... you are supposed to be this big powerful deathknight who can keel over and die easily because you have no abilities.... but the story... the story alone makes it worth going through.

The Shores of the Borean Tundra
I copied my Druid over. She's my main... while I know some people indicated they wouldn't want to bring their main, I really wanted to see what the new gear was like and how the respec would affect my DPS. First of all, the DPS went THROUGH THE ROOF!!! I'm a feral druid and they got some serious DPS love in the current state of the expansion... note that's going to be nerfed before the expansion goes live so you have nothing to fear... I'll be a tame kitty before you see me in game again... Secondly I'm expecting to see that the HP goes up dramatically in the expansion again. Bear druids with 40k hp don't seem that unreasonable to me at this point. I've seen several quest rewards with something like 45stamina or 60stamina... so now I'm pondering if I should keep my KZ/ZA and badge gear... OK my badge gear staff.... you'll pry it out of my COLD DEAD HANDS!!!!

First of all the boat ride in wasn't bad. Stormwind harbor was very cool. You get to see a steamtank and a lot of very nice architecture. The boat ride is nice and smooth and as you come in to the harbor, you immediately get that feeling of being on the front lines of the war. Its rather BCish, but without the large unkillable mass of demons. You see conscription lines and a hold that's being built still. Its really kind of neat. At this point I'm at Valiance Keep in the Borean Tundra. They quickly get you indoctrinated with the Scourge menace and you really see right out of the gate.

Now let me say BRAVO to Blizzard for the graphics touches they've done. Now none of them struck me as being excessively dramatic, but there were so MANY subtle ones that made the world really alive. One of the first quest leads you up to these peasants and I must have spent 10 minutes pondering what the hell was wrong with them.... then it dawned on me.... they weren't human models 1 and 2... one guy had a beer gut. Another guy was skinny as a rail.... the women and men looked different than any models I'd seen before. Suddenly the NPCs felt alive. I liked interacting with them. I wanted to help them out. There are tons of little touches that throw you for a loop as you try to figure out what's different. The textures are very nice. My wife commented how the textures were much prettier and looked great.

Quest wise most of them have felt pretty straight forward. Run here, kill that, etc. Some of them have involved more complex tasks, but this is the warm up... I can feel it. I just got my first quest to go to the gnomish air port so I suspect I'll be seeing that vehicle combat up in Northrend very soon. I haven't had a chance to dip my toes into an instance yet. its been a crazy week and I haven't had the time to dedicate to instance yet.