Sunday, August 11, 2019

Out Of The Mists : World of Warcraft

Writing about World of Warcraft and reading other bloggers anticipating and speculating about WoW Classic put me in the mood to visit Azeroth again. As I said, though, it makes little sense to subscribe this far out from Classic's launch date.

Then it occured to me that I don't need to pay money to scratch my WoW itch. Blizzard's generous endless free trial gives me access to every character up to Level 20 on my old account, not to mention the option to create new characters on different servers.

I have a Level 13 druid I was dithering about with a year or so ago but I also have an unplayed Panda Monk I made long ago and never did anything with. I've noticed of late that Mists of Pandaria, the expansion that turned SynCaine into a WoW-hater for a while and which was widely reviled and ridiculed by many, has undergone some very heavy rehabilitation over the ensuing years.

Wilhelm from TAGN called Pandaria "the most underrated of expansions" in a post about Classic just a week or so ago It occured to me that I'd never seen any of it. Time to fix that.

Well, after BattleNet installed 6GB of files. That seems like a lot just for the various post-BfA updates. I wonder if there are pre-launch Classic files in there? If not I'm going to have to remember to factor in the download when launch rolls around.

I bet this where they take the wedding photos.

With that out of the way I woke my panda up and started on the quests Blizzard had prepared for me. Just like the Goblin and Worgen starting area, there's absolutely no flexibility at all. Nor escape. I guess you could just run off and start killing things but you're on an island (on the back of a turtle - where have I heard that before?) so you won't be going far.

Fortunately, also like the Goblin and Worgen starter areas, the story is quite interesting. Or perhaps it's not the story, whiich is generic in the extreme, but the NPCs, who are characterful and amusing and also fairly well voiced, when they speak, which isn't all the time but often enough.

I got into a very interesting discussion about questing and quest writing with XyzzySqrl in the comments to one of my posts on Kingdoms of Amalur. I really should do a whole post on the topic some time. Maybe more than one. Suffice it to say that WoW's quest dialog is competent and effective if not particularly thrilling.

I guess an Ancient Panda Sensei
can get away with a degree of formality.
It was instructive to compare it in my mind to the dialog in Kingdoms of Amalur, which I find to be above average. The main difference, I think, is in colloquiality. WoW quest dialog is relatively informal when it comes to speech but the detail text tends towards the formal, verging ocasionally on the portentous. KoA, at least as far as I have seen so far, manages to stay firmly on the side of normal conversation, even when the topic at hand is imminent doom and destruction.

I also still strongly dislike WoW's quasi-gothic font, rendered in black against a bronze faux-parchment background. I get why they do it but it's unecessarily hard to read.

A recent patch broke the Add-On I was using that replaced most of the default UI with a replica of Guild Wars 2's and I wasn't in the mood for fiddling with add-ons. Also I'm guessing Add-Ons will be severely restricted for Classic so I thought I should get used to the default again.

It wasn't too bad. I was fairly invested in the storyline and enjoying the scenery so I wasn't obsessing about the font too much. And Pandaria really is beautiful. The days when WoW was ridiculed for it's low-end graphics seem like a half-forgotten dream. It's as gorgeous as any MMORPG out there now.

I took a lot of screenshots but few of them capture the luminous quality of the in-game image. I might have to take a look at my screenshot settings, assuming WoW has any.

My panda changed appearance constantly as quest after quest replaced gear she'd just put on. I'm really not sure what the point of handing out non-stat gear every few minutes is supposed to be. I just equipped each piece as I got it and didn't look at anything too closely. No point getting attached to how a piece looks when it'll be back in the bag in fifteen minutes.

Have you seen Nayland Smith around?
The name of the main questgiver amused me. He's called Shang Xi, which I immediately took to be a sly reference to Marvel's Master of Kung Fu, Shang-Chi. On googling it, however, I found there was a 15th century Imperial Court painter called Shang Xi. Maybe they meant him. There's an MCU movie starring Shang-Chi scheduled for 2021 so perhaps they should sort out the provenance before then. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it all.

XyzzySqrl and I also had a minor disagreement over leveling speeds. I thought 2-3 hours per level in Kingdoms of Amalur was slow while Sqrl thought it was fast. I was comparing it with the pace of modern MMORPGs rather than other single-player games.

My Panda started at flat level 1 with no xp and I played for about two hours, maybe three. I wasn't paying attention because I was enjoying myself. When I logged out she was Level 11. That seemed about right in terms of pacing. Compare it to KoA, where my character is halfway through Level 8 after about 16 hours play. Quite a difference. I'm very interested to see what leveling speed in Classic is going to be.

By the time I stopped I'd awoken and befriended all four Elemental spirits (all of which look weirdly like cats), installed them in a temple, defeated several named opponents, including a really annoying fight with a flying snake that required me to shoot it with fireworks. I'd also travelled in a wagon and a hot air balloon, been turned into a skunk and a frog and been shot into the air on waterspouts. Never a dull moment.

The fights started out very easy but by Level Eight or so they required some tactics. I got to Level Nine without dying once but then I died several times in quick succession, first when I was overwhelmed by monkeys, then by some other annoying swarmers, and a couple of times when I was standing in the wrong place for a special event and got one-shotted.

Traveling in style!
Curiously I was able to complete one of the more difficult quests while dead. I just ran back from the graveyard, past my corpse and on to the location I'd died trying to reach and the quest NPC happily updated my quest with me in ghost form. I wonder how often that works?

There were a surprising number of other players around the entire time I was playing. Surprising, that is, considering I was doing starter-level content from an expansion that's seven years old. It was quite annoying at times, with several of us getting in each other's way as we spawned mobs on top of one another. Of course no-one spoke, let alone suggested grouping up. Me included. That better not happen in Classic or we're all screwed.

All in all it was a fun couple of hours. I will definitely carry on and finish the introductory storyline, which, if the Goblin and Worgen equivalents are anything to go by, should take me close the free trial cap of Level 20. Then, while I'm subbed for Classic, I might carry on and see where my panda goes next.

She looks so jolly and good-spirited it's mood-lifting just to watch her running around. Can't say that about every character I play. Score one for the pandas!


  1. Glad you are enjoying the panda starting area. I will say that my statement about the expansion being underrated was largely based on having played the main content at level back when it was the current expansion. It was interesting/compelling enough that I did a lot of the post-leveling things, like grinding out faction with all the various groups and working on the trade skills and tending my little farm. We even did some of the dungeons as the instance group and I did the LFR versions of all of the raids. I enjoyed the whole thing quite a bit.

    But whether it stands the test of time or works well now that three more expansions and a ton of changes have been applied to the game is a different story. I go back now and again. It is still one of the better places to level up battle pets.

    1. All of the later racial starting areas are pretty good, I think. They have very little to do with MMOs, being mostly standalone single player rpgs, but they're fun. From memory there's a huge gap from 20 to 80 when pandas are just left to level up as they choose, then the bulk of the new zones come into play from 80 up.

      Whether I'll get that far is unlikely unless I buy some sort of level-skipping potion. I guess I could take my Level 90 hunter through it, though...


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