The (late) post on game content

Again, folks. Hyperfocus. No blogging cause I'm playing WoW (and also working/going to school) I hit 85. I've maxed herbalism and nearly maxed alchemy. I've been making about 2k a day.
I have pictures all over the place; I've been taking a ton of screenshots, but currently I've been messing with video and trying to get it to actually look good and not at all artifact-y and gross. My resolution is 1440x900, better than any HDTV, so why can I only film at 240p? Furthermore, I'm typing this at a campus computer and blogging-by-email, so I have none of the pwetty pictures.

What have I to say for myself? Today I'm going to talk about leveling.

Leveling in Vanilla was brutal, and by brutal I mean horrendously dull. Yes, you could quest, but they gave little XP. Yes, you could grind, but it meant waiting for spawns, and the XP/hour was better than questing, but still somewhat abysmal. There was no dungeon finder; there was no cross-realm stuff; there was no leveling by gathering or pvp; it was hard to get a group together for a dungeon, and even then the quests weren't that great. PvE--grinding or questing, was the only way.
I specifically recall the dreaded early-fifties. I've had probably six characters that hit level 50-54 or so and could not level. Winterspring, Silithus, and Eastern Plaguelands were too high to do without dying every five minutes. Felwood was a bit low and irritating to get around. Feralas had only a few quests that were that level, and Burning Steppes had few quests--just grinding for the Thorium Brotherhood. Literally, the only way I levelled to 60 was with a group that ground out mobs and ran Strat and the blackrock mountain dungeons (UBRS was too high until we hit 56 or 57, and by that time we could actually quest). BRD took hours to do, even after we knew the layout, which was a task in and of itself. To give you an example of BRD, here's a picture of its bosses:
Even discounting the rares, that's the entire population of         Wyoming by weight.

Admittedly, one fight is seven mobs, the arena is multiple mobs, Coren Direbrew is a world event--but you get the point. Don't even bother with the map; it's incomprehensible.

Bringing it back to my initial point: Leveling in Vanilla sucked, and it only got worse the higher you were. Recall that these are the days before epic mounts, and normal mounts were level 40 and required 80g after reputation discounts. It took a shrewd player to scrape together 80g by level 40, and an insane one to get the actual 1000g for an epic mount. Those were more prestigious than epics, in the early patches. So imagine walking through the Barrens, north to south. That's minutes, which seems short, until you realize how many unproductive minutes it truly is.

Enter the Burning Crusade. Quest XP is significantly improved, but grinding is still the fastest way, and quests are far more engaging. Mounts are easier to get, and flying mounts trivialize certain quests (yes, you were already max level when you got your flyer, but there were still phat lewtz). Tobold mentions this in his MMORPG blog, but if you haven't read it (you should, though) he makes a good point noticed by many of my guildies: at the start of Burning Crusade, there were a TON of dungeons. There were 4 in Auchindoun, 3 in Hellfire, 3 in Netherstorm, and 3 in Zangarmarsh--those were the major dungeon complexes, not counting raids. That's 13 dungeons, and gave the opportunity for 13 more heroics. At level 70, there were about 19 dungeons that were level 70, counting normals and heroics. There was more immediately available top-end content, which Blizzard did excellently.
There was a significant problem though. Getting to 70 was not a pain because of a dearth of quests, it was a pain because of the clearly defined leveling path. Hellfire => Terrokar => Nagrand => Blade's Edge => Netherstorm/Shadowmoon Valley. Though Blizzard was brilliant at giving extensive endgame content in Burning Crusade, they went overboard. It should be a funnel: more spreading out at lower levels, less at high levels. At the start of Burning Crusade, levelling was impossible because of hundreds of campers, sitting in Hellfire, trying to quest or grind their way up.
However, quests were BETTER. They were more engaging, more lore-related. Factions weren't as arbitrary as Timbermaw or Wintersaber trainers--there were whole leadup quests to access Ogri'la, and you knew why the Mag'har were there and what they were all about.

Wrath comes out. Blizzard figures that you need two low-level zones so people can spread out during the beginning-expansion rush. At the higher zones, they add in phasing. Quests are, again, better. More continuous. Quest hubs are better designed, with a bit of linearity but also the ability to say "Fuck this place" and go somewhere else. There's also more exciting things you can do--I direct you to leveling from 1-10 as a BC race as compared to a Death Knight (which is one of the best-told stories in WoW.) Phasing is great, because there's less interference with other people, and the idea of the hero actually changing the world--that's great. The suspension of disbelief and thus the immersion in WoW was far superior to anything Blizzard had created. You truly wanted to kill the Lich King, which was too bad because the endgame in Wrath was inferior to Burning Crusade.

Now, welcome to Cataclysm. Levelling is vastly improved from 1-60, and of course there's 80-85. Burning Crusade leveling is now the weakest link by a significant margin, so I hope that gets smoothed out.
Something I noticed at the very beginning of the levelling process was the linearity and the use of phasing. Phasing somewhat alleviated the issues of "too many players in the same spot", as did the linearity. I've seen complaints with the directness of "Go to this hub, clear it out, go to the next hub" but as a lore nerd, I loved it, and it made it easier to sit down for longer play sessions, which is exactly what Blizzard wants.
Vashj'ir is split into 3 subzones, and I did 140 quests start-to-finish. I was led to follow an epic storyline of Naga and god-beings and the corruption of Old Gods. The Kvaldir (the sea-vrykul) were brought back for a few cameos, which I enjoyed because the Kvaldir in WotLK seemed a bit half baked (Sea Vrykul! There's mist! It's evil! ...That's about it!). They're only 2/3rds baked now, but it gives me hope that we will see more of them. More importantly, the zone is fantastically well done, because of the introduction into it. You take a boat from your capital city--and it sinks! You can't find the boat at first, you're on the sea floor, you're running out of breath (well, I'm an undead, so I wasn't), and there it is. Your first quest gives you a small bonus to swim speed, to bring it up to normal running speed, and off you go. Soon, however, you're kidnapped and taken to other places, and eventually you have to find a mount. First, you tame a turtle, and it's even slower than you are. Then, you get to tame an Abyssal Seahorse, and that shit is AWESOME! Not only is the huge speed boost great, the actual seahorse model is brilliant, with little fringes and fluttering wings.
Overall, the questing in Cataclysm is the best it has ever been. The starting small, the spreading out--it's apparent everywhere. Vashj'ir might be the most linear, but Deepholm gives you a wider range to play from the get-go, and instead of one overarching storyline, Uldum had two (Uldum, incidentally, was my favorite zone to quest in, though Vashj'ir is the most stunning visually). Twilight Highlands gives you a couple things to worry about, and spreads you out pretty nicely from the start; giving you a bit more questing options, and introducing the main villain (Cho'gal) really nicely due to the cutscenes. Not only is Cho'gal's model cool, the voice acting is good. Just before I heard him speak, I thought "he has two heads, a dozen eyes, and is batshit insane. This better be good."--it was.

Blizzard has cut XP throughout their history. I remember 1-60 was slashed by 25% or something in BC, and BC was slashed again, and recently 70-80 was cut by 20%--but they don't have to do that in Cataclysm, because the storyline is linearly set up, there's no mid-fifties grind, and it's already incredibly fast! Realm first for my server was about 15 hours, by a guy who got realm first 80. I was fourth in my guild to hit 85, and that was after 4 days of playing for a few hours a day. 84-85 was about 8 hours of slow, methodical progression; I wasn't racing. I'm sure it could be done in 6--compared to 69-70 which probably took me 20 hours or so.

I'll talk about dungeons next time, probably. I'm gonna go level my Archaeology.

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