Summary: The Burning Crusade is almost upon us! Jakub gives the low-down on the new races and newbie zones, and other impressions of the expansion to the most popular MMO ever.
The Blood Elves are the new Horde race, Blizzard’s answer to the calls for attractive models and Paladins for the Horde. Continuing the story from WarCraft III, the Blood Elves have split from the Alliance by making common cause with Illidan. Their lands and Silvermoon, their city, lay in ruins. The passage of the Scourge has quite literally left a mark on what were once the beautiful lands of the elves.
Interestingly enough, despite their recent close kinship to the Alliance, the Blood Elves feel like the most evil, and perhaps the only truly evil race in the Horde. There is a subtle, cold arrogance and unnatural feeling to everything about the Blood Elves. Where asking an Ironforge guard for the directions to a rogue trainer results in a funny remark from a suspicious dwarf wondering if he should keep an eye on you, in Silvermoon if you ask for the hunter trainer, the response is one of barely disguised contempt. The reason for this is the new Blood Elf dedication to make their way to Outland, the shattered remains of Draenor, the Orcish homeworld, and the abandonment of their natural environment. In contrast to the Draenei, who crashed spectacularly on Azeroth with their ship Exodar and are also in a ravaged environment, the Blood Elves wish to escape and abandon their realms, as the Draenei seek to fix the damage. The Blood Elves have no qualms about turning on former allies – not just the humans with whom they split, but even close former friends like treants. One quest in the newbie zone has the player killing off the very beings trying to fix the Blood Elf lands on Azeroth.
This split Blood Elf history and image is embodied by their very city. Silvermoon is cut in half by a scar of Scourge, with the western portion being a shattered ruin, a mockery of the beautiful half in the East. The former is Silvermoon Ruins, the land of the Wretched, fallen Blood Elves who lost control of their addiction to magic. It is also where the player initially starts before moving into Eversong Woods and then later to Silvermoon City. Even the ethereal beauty of Silvermoon City is disturbing, however. The new elven fetish for crimson is reflected everywhere in an unpleasant aura of red and gold, and even the representatives of their new Horde allies are disturbed by the unnatural beauty of the place. Silvermoon City is somewhat complicated by the presence of at least two inns, neither of which are distinguished in a quest. To make matters more interesting, Silvermoon Ruins also has an inn.
Blood Elves can be played as Paladins, Priests, Warlocks, Mages, Rogues, and Hunters. Of some interest is lack of a Warrior choice, since they will be the only race without that option. When even the midget Gnomes, of all things, can be warriors, this is somewhat disappointing. This is compounded by the obvious presence of warrior Blood Elf guards across their lands. However, the other classes are a natural fit for the elves and it’s hard to see which class you’d take from that list and replace with the Warrior.
There are impressively long quest arcs, considering the low levels, and a fairly large variety of enemies – beasts, Wretched, Trolls, mana creatures/elementals, Undead and Night Elves. Drop rates are generous and we didn’t really feel a shortage of equipment with any of our trial characters, even the hunter we leveled up to the point he could get out of the zone.
Overall, Eversong Woods is spectacular. It doesn’t force the player into many awkward situations, such as by having him run through a group of higher-level mobs to get to his quest target area. The balance and flow of the action, the variety of enemies and tasks, and the consistently high quality of the quests makes this by far the best newbie area in World of WarCraft, even at beta stage.
Beyond Eversong Woods are the Ghostlands, the Horde-cursed and occupied woodlands where the elves used to reign. Here the Blood Elves find themselves making common cause with the Forsaken Undead against their mutual enemy, and are unusually pragmatic about the whole arrangement. Quests here remain interesting, with the player having to take on some semi-mandatory tasks. What does semi-mandatory mean? Well, if you’d like to use the merchant in the first town in Ghostlands, you’d better bring him supplies. We haven’t spent as much time in the Ghostlands as in Eversong Woods, but they share more than a passing resemblance to Duskwood in atmosphere, though the layout is wildly different and more reminiscent of Elwynn Forest than anything.
The Blood Elf racial powers are extremely attractive. They can drain mana from up to three targets, and also use an area of effect silence (centered on themselves) if they have at least one mana tap running. The silence spell will also give the Blood Elf a boost in mana, depending on how many mana taps he had going. We’re not sure about the effectiveness of the silence, though the mana is very nice for all sorts of casters. Mounts for the Blood Elves will be a living version of the giant chicken (officially known as a Hawkstrider) that gnomes ride.
Draenei are the least human-looking of the Alliance races, with a tail, skin of blue, white or purple color, and satyr legs. Not physically attractive by any stretch of the imagination, they do bring a sense of greater variety to the Alliance in more ways than one, however. The Draenei are the only Alliance race able to be Shamans. Odd as that may seem, seeing as they’re not from Azeroth at all, you have to consider that Orcs aren’t either and were in fact the only race to have shamans in WarCraft III. The game also makes it a point to run the shaman player through a series of class quests designed to establish his bond to the world.
Draenei have some pretty sweet racial abilities too, highlighted by the Blessing of the Naaru, which is a healing spell that scales with level and has a 3 minute cooldown. The Draenei should be especially popular with rogues and warriors in parties, since they give a +1% to hit for all party members within 30 yards.
Azuremyst Isle, the primary newbie zone for the Draenei, is nicely developed and indisputably superior to most of the old zones and at least equal to Elwynn Forest, though it doesn’t seem to flow quite as well as Eversong Woods. As with the Blood Elf zone, there is an abundance of quests that tend to stack well, though the layout was a bit more confusing and there are a few instances of poor directions in the quest notes. Still, with about three months before release, there is plenty of times to fine-tune this and balance considerations aside, the beta feels like a really polished product. Based on at least the low-level experience, Blizzard could release the expansion in its current form to little critical commentary.
Of interest to Hunters should the increased prominence of crossbows. Draenei Hunters default to this weapon (and have very slick firing and reload animations, I might add). This likely spells the end of the crossbow drought in Azeroth.
The Draenei are capable of being Warriors, Shamans, Hunters, Paladins, Priests, and Mages. Not surprisingly, given their hatred towards the Burning Legion, they cannot be warlocks. Like Tauren, given their considerable size and conspicuousness, the Draenei don’t seem like a natural fit for the Rogue class. Of course, it’s somewhat harder to understand their knack for hunting, being not of this world. Draenei will also be mounted on Elekks, rather large elephant-like creatures.
The Exodar serves as the home city for the Draenei and is a stately and majestic piece of work, though much like their extraterrestrial origins, seems somewhat at odds with the fantasy nature of the WarCraft universe. Still, after a dozen levels as a Draenei on the beta server, the incongruities of the circumstances of their arrival don’t seem nearly as jarring as I’d expect. Star Trek Online this is not and never will be.
Several changes are planned for gameplay mechanics as well. Certain add-ons that automated healing and de-cursing may find themselves limited or unable to function altogether, as Blizzard aims to make players actually play the game. We have mixed feelings on this, since healing and de-cursing are more like a round of whack-a-mole than what one would expect from a proper game. On another note, healers may find that their +heal items will be normalized much like +damage was several patches ago. This means that lower-level heal spells will no longer be extra efficient if the healer has a lot of +heal gear on him. The exact details of the changes, if they happen, are unknown but those are the rumors flying around in beta.
Jewelcrafting is the new profession and is concerned with the creation of rings and trinkets. Its ultimate profitability and utility is of course unknown, but it would be fair to expect that crafted rings will be much like crafted anything – good, but not the best. The best gear is almost exclusively reserved for raids. Thus, depending on whether or not any consumables are produced, jewelcrafting may become the next alchemy, or the next leatherworking. Only time will tell.
Ultimately, we are a little saddened to see that the uniqueness of each faction is diluted by the crossing over of Shamans into the Alliance and Paladins into the Horde, but it is an exciting prospect, seeing what a Shaman can do alongside a Paladin or other Alliance characters. The beta looks just like the World of WarCraft beta did – a phenomenally polished product that could and would be launched now if it was any other company at the helm. However, this being Blizzard, their attention to detail almost certainly guarantees that the January date is the earliest we can expect the expansion in stores.
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