Sunday, October 18, 2020

Once More Into The Reach : World of Warcraft

After reading Shintar's and Rohan's posts and comments on the Alliance version of Exile's Reach I was curious enough about what the differences might be to go take a look for myself. I also wanted to see if the Alliance experience would be as bug-ridden as the Horde's and to go exploring rather than sticking slavishly to the plot.

I didn't want to take all afternoon doing it so I didn't spend too long agonizing over which class and race to go with. I settled on a worgen hunter, two of my favorite options. Of course, having picked a combination I might very likely want to play at some stage, I lost any time I might have saved by taking an age getting her hair and ears right.

Character creation seemed considerably more varied than last time. I wasn't imagining it, either. Worgen get a lot more choices than goblins - more hairstyles, more jewellery, more ear-shapes - and then they also get to customize a human form, too. It hardly seems fair.

Worgen are spoiled for choice, looks-wise. Just look at those glowy eyes!


My first choice of name was taken, suggesting someone else has read Martin Millar's werewolf trilogy. I got my second choice, though, further adding to the likelihood she'll get played someday. (Talk among yourselves for a moment while I add Martin Millar's excellent blog, which I have just discovered and spent half an hour reading, to the blog roll).

Thankfully the dreadful connection problems I was having yesterday seem to have calmed down a little. I'm not sure what's behind it all. It's certainly not just World of Warcraft that's having problems. I've had issues of one kind or another in Guild Wars 2, EverQuest II and Genshen Impact over the past few days. I'd suspect my ISP but it seems to be happening to a lot of people and by no means all of them from the same countries.

With no lag or disconnections it was a lot easier to tell what was a "bug" and what was just very bad latency. Someone at Blizzard really wants to do some sanity checking on when tutorial tips and prompts open and close. That's the main source of confusion. It does seem to me that the game ought to be able to tell that you've not only followed instructions to "Use the Dungeon Finder to enter Darkmaul Citadel" but that you are, in fact, already in a group, which you did join via the Dungeon Finder and that the group is in Darkmaul Citadel and has been for some time!

Even worse, the game remembers you not doing what you were told even after you log out. I didn't want to put my spells where the prompt suggested so I ignored it and put them where I wanted them. That seemed to satisfy the prompt gods when I did it but when I logged back in just a couple of hours later a bunch of tutorial prompts began flashing all over again and wouldn't stop until I put duplicate spell icons on my hotbar in precisely the slots indicated. Whether that will put an end to the incessant nagging remains to be seen. I kind of think I might still be doing it when I hit fifty.

It's not even pointing at the right spell! And notice I now have three Feign Death spells on my bar, all from trying to shut the damn prompt up.

The Alliance's end-of-tutorial dungeon is identical to the Horde's, as is the plotline leading up to it. Indeed, most of the Exile's Reach experience is copy-pasted between the two factions. The NPCs are necessarily different although their roles are direct analogs and quite a lot of the dialog is unchanged. 

The quests are there and thereabouts the same, with just a little of the text re-arranged for flavor. Most of the differences I did spot almost certainly arose from my playing a different class rather than a different faction. There was no spirit army this time. Presumably only shamans get that one. Instead, as a hunter I got several new quests teaching me how to tame and manage my pets. 

The one completely different and totally unexpected encounter, something that had me quite excited when it happened, is probably another class-specific event. I'm not sure, though. 

It happened when I went exploring. I was determined to go poke my nose where it wasn't wanted but even though the map, when you open it, suggests quite a large explorable area, Exile's Reach doesn't seem to have many nooks and crannies that aren't being fully exploited by the plot.

It looks more attractive in game. It would have to, really. So dark and dingy!


It does, however, have a very inviting river valley leading towards a large waterfall. And nothing prompts you to go there other than your own curiosity. A waterfall is like a signpost to adventure, though. It's a truism that no waterfall should go un-looked-behind. Or, in this case, beneath.

I was swimming upstream towards the cataract, underwater because it's quite deep and the lighting effects are lovely, when I saw a glow in the distance. A cave, under the falls, guarded by a couple of turtle-folk. 


I was so keen to see what I'd found I didn't even check if the guards were friendly. They didn't seem to be bothered so in I went. Inside were several more turtle people, one of whom looked quite chatty. I had a hurried and somewhat nervous conversation with them. I was already conscious of being underwater and holding my breath. 

Okay, you're scaring me now, Tiang.


When the turtle mentioned they didn't know how long worgen could stay underwater without breathing I panicked a little and immediately accepted an offer to be sent back to the center of the island. I was expecting to be teleported but instead another turtle read some words off a scroll and a huge bubble of air surrounded me, lifted me up and floated me all the way back, down the river to the camp.

When I'd gotten over the shock I went straight back up the river, checked just how long I could hold my breath (ages!) and swam back down to have a better look. I spoke to all the turtles, each of which had something to say. I also noticed I'd gained reputation with them. I'm now Neutral with Tortollan Seekers. No idea who they are but apparently they live a very long time and don't get out much.

Do the bubble spell, Mey! Do the bubble spell!


It seemed out of kilter for there to be such a well-decorated easter egg in this highly utilitarian zone. Nice, but odd. Then it occured to me that it was more likely the turtles are part of some other class's questline. Druids, maybe. Even so, some considerable effort has been made to make finding the hidden cave a memorable experience. I appreciate it. I just wish there was more of it.

The other major deviation from my Horde experience came with the quest involving the re-sizing of wild boars. The Horde's mad scientist - a goblin, naturally - comes up with a plan to inflate a boar to giant size and use it to crush the army of undead guarding the sacrifice. This plan gets radically revised when in-field testing shows the re-sizer can be used more efectively and directly as a weapon. 

In the Horde scenario, the player ends up hanging from a remote-controlled drone, blasting undead into dust from the skies. For the Alliance, however, the mad scientist (inevitably a gnome) sticks with the original plan. A boar is duly blown up to elephantine proportions and the player gets to ride it like a tank, crushing all before them.

I dunno... I'm just not sure it's the armageddon weapon you think it is.


Given that the preceding stage, where the player gets hoiked around on the drone for the purposes of reconnaissance and general ridicule, still exists, I really wasn't expecting that. I can't quite see why it was done differently. Again, though, nice to see someone making the effort.

Other than that I don't think I noticed much difference. Following my comments about the Horde's Exile's Reach involving some "spooky swampland" and Shintar's description of the Alliance enjoying "lush meadows" I was expecting some completely new scenery but it turns out this is entirely a difference in perception. The landscape is exactly the same.

Looking at it objectively, I think both our original descriptions are hyperbolic. The areas I thought of as ghostly marshes are more like dank, dreary forest floors while Shintar's idyllic fields are more like rough scrubland. The whole place is generally scruffy and uncared-for. It also seems to be perpetually overcast and quite dark. 

Anyone know a good landscape gardener?

Other variations came in the number of bags I got (more) and the amount of damage I took (also more). One of those was down to luck and the other to forgetting I'd dismissed my pet before pulling a boss mob. Still didn't die but it did come down to the last hit.

I can also confirm to Rohan that I categorically did not get any option to turn down the "tour the city" quest when I arrived in Stormwind. I took great care to check all the options and screenshot them, too. I'm guessing that if your account has never completed the Battle for Azeroth storyline you cannot opt out of doing at least those opening quests and quite possibly you'll be compelled to do the whole thing on your first character, regardless of how many other higher-level characters you may have.

That would make the definition of "Veteran" players mean anyone who has completed BfA. And to be fair the very detailed description of the new leveling system at Icy Veins does make that clear: "New players do not have access to Timewalking Campaigns and must play through Exile's Reach and Battle for Azeroth first to reach Level 50 with at least one character, before they classify as Veteran players and can seek out Chromie on subsequent alts.

Then again, Icy Veins also states quite plainly "A new starting zone called Exile's Reach has been added and is mandatory for new players. Veteran players can simply opt out of it and begin at Level 1 in the starting zone for their race." Well, I can make a gnome and start in Gnomeregan, because I just did! It seems there are veterans and veterans.

Just to be sure, I took my worgen hunter over to the Stormwind embassy to talk to Chromie, the npc who hands out the timewalking passes that allow players to select an expansion to level in. She was in no doubt. Do the tour, noob!

So I have to take the tour but maybe then I don't have to do the BfA quests? I guess I'm going to have to do the whole thing to find out.

This is definitely not turning out to be as straightforward as I imagined. Was leveling ever this complicated before they simplified it?


  1. Hah, I love that we described the exact same zone so differently! I have a history of remembering MMO skies as bluer than they are, but some of it is definitely still visible in your screenshots.

    Also love that you went off exploring and found those Tortollens... they may well be an intentional Easter egg, as I also saw someone else mention a friendly Ettin that throws you back to the camp if you've wandered too far off into another direction...

    1. If I take another character through Exile's Reach there are one or two other directions I might try. The map looks huge and although I think that's misleading I'm fairly sure there are parts I never got to see.


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