Summary: It's here, it's reviewed, Illidan doesn't think you're ready. We say we want our tier 6.
As we mentioned in our TBC preview, the newbie zones are truly excellent. They surpass the two best start options, Elwynn Forest and Tirisfal Glades rather handily, and their follow-ups, Ghostlands and Bloodmyst Isle, are far, far better than original early zones like Barrens, Loch Modan, or Westfall. Quests are more concise, with less mindless running around and more action. There are fewer bottlenecks and no occasions where a player finds himself starved for a key mob or is looking for frustratingly rare drops. Generally speaking, if you start a Blood Elf or Draenei toon, you will find yourself doing more, shorter quests and next-to-zero grinding. The path to level 18-20 or so is ridiculously well-planned and if anything having to go to Redridge Mountains, Ashenvale, or Stonetalon Mountains will be a bit of a shock as you notice the quality drop off between expansion and original content.
Players continuing their level 60 characters will be warmly surprised, however. Outland is a magnificent example of questing and design. Though some zones, like Bladeís Edge Mountains or Hellfire Peninsula arenít particularly attractive, all of them are well-designed with incredible question progression. Quest stacking, once an art that spawned numerous leveling guides, now comes naturally with every zone. The endless FedEx quests of the level 50s, flipping between Western Plaguelands, Eastern Plaguelands, Winterspring, Azshara, and Silithus is but a distant memory. Almost every quest in Outland is completed in the zone itís started in, and usually there are two or three other quests that take you to the same area. Itís really as simple as collecting all the quests, doing them, turning them in, and then doing their follow-ups. The designers have chosen to go with quest chains for the most part, there are few stand-alones, and the chains range from moderate to long in length. In some wonderful cases, like the continued adventures of the Nesingwary Expedition, the chains themselves stack as you progress into different areas.
Loot drops are remarkable for the first few levels of Outland. Players stuck in mixed green and blue gear, or even tier 0 from 10-mans will be pleasantly surprised by the incredible quality of drops Outland has to offer. Molten Core-quality gear is usually completely gone by level 62, even considering set bonuses. Blackwing Lair goods disappear a few levels after that, and even the prized Naxx gear will be oudated for the most part before you hit 70. Thatís not to say that raid epics wonít serve you well, because for the most part those to hit 70 fastest were wearing very good gear at the outset and didnít have to bother with the early instances. After level 62 or so, players will notice that loot drops have tapered off in progression and there wonít be as dramatic an improvement from level to level, though still better than it was in vanilla WoW. To give you an idea of how dramatic the improvement is, my Rogue had ~3500hp in mixed greens and blues before The Dark Portal opened. By the time level 61 hit, he was over 5000hp. Now, having just hit 66 and not seen an instance since Underbog, heís at 5700hp and could be at about 6500 if I sacrificed my fetish for +hit and +crit items for more stamina boosts.
The reason for the good gear drops is because players need to be on relatively equal footing as they progress through the game. It would be impossible to keep Naxx players challenged if the early zones like Zangarmarsh or Hellfire Peninsula were also to be playable by those who hadnít gone raiding or done many instances at level 60.
Blizzard has also dropped the 40-man raid instance. Whether itís to take mercy on smaller guilds or for performance reasons, the 40-man has now been replaced by the 25-man raid. The old 40-mans like Molten Core, Naxx, and BWL are still out there, but all new raid content is targeted at 25 players. Perhaps the popularity of AQ20 and ZulíGarrak has something to do with it. While we havenít been raiding yet, we do expect to see Blizzard continue improving the complexity and diversity of raid instances. The relative simplicity of Molten Core gave way to a few tricks in Blackwing Lair, and then Blizzard really caught its stride in the later parts of AhníQiraj and of course Naxx. To expect less in Outland doesnít seem fair.
The 25-man instances range from very short (like Magtheridonís Lair in Hellfire Peninsula) to being very large and long, according to Blizzard. Magtheridon has been described as the new Onyxia, in fact.
Items have been added to or modified in older instances as well. With patch 1.20, thrown weapons no longer come in stacks of white items, but can have quality ranging from green to epic purple as well. Rather than being used like a stack, it comes with 200 durability and loses one durability with each toss. Alliance loot tables have included Shaman gear for a few weeks since TBC, and of course Horde have had access to Paladin gear. This was done prematurely by Blizzard and resulted in many useless drops in all instances, ranging from Scholomance and Stratholme up to Naxxramas. As unamusing as it was to find a Shaman item in Scholo, we can scarcely imagine the annoyance of a 40-man raid that worked hours to see bind on pickup items that they couldnít possibly use. Whether through carelessness or laziness, itís hard to forgive Blizzard this oversight.
Also new is the option to run some Outland dungeons in regular or Heroic mode. Heroic mode increases the difficulty considerably (normalized to level 70) but also the quality of the drops. Players can expect epic loot to drop much more often. It has been suggested that Heroic 5-mans will be able to drop loot similar to some of the early 25-man instances. If true, itís yet another indication that Blizzard doesnít want to see players without huge guilds left behind.
Playing on a PvP server, one would expect ganking to be commonplace but it is not as prevalent as youíd assume. Most players respect each other and understand that a reputation as a ganker is not conducive to leveling quickly. Even once they reach 70, Horde players generally have not interfered since theyíre typically busy doing an instance or grinding reputation to enter raids.
For a game thatís supposedly balanced around PvE rather than PvP, World of WarCraft handles both rather well. There are matchups that arenít especially favorable to certain classes, like Rogue vs Hunter or Mage vs Warlock, but in general each class can typically compete with a few others and dominate one or more if specced and played correctly. The new 41-point talents have played some havoc with class balance, but things have generally sorted themselves out. Rogues and Warlocks typically pose the biggest problem, since a Rogue out of stealth is usually dead meat and in stealth heís a killer, while Warlocks are difficult to balance due to efficiency concerns over their damage over time spells in PvE and variety of pets.
Gold is very, very abundant in The Burning Crusade. Players new to 60 in TBC usually have epic mounts by the time theyíre halfway through level 61 in Outland. Money sink trades like Engineering and Enchanting havenít quite been made lucrative, but generally less expensive. The standard skinning/herbalism or skinning/mining option is still best for money making, but not as necessary for new toons as before. The abundance of gold should lead to inflation, especially for twink and high-end items, which may make things difficult for those who havenít opted to buy the expansion pack.
Patch 1.20 absolutely destroyed all sorts of game and interface mods. Nurfed UI, a popular option in 1.12, still hasnít quite recovered from the drastic changes Blizzard made though it can do some really cool things now that it couldnít before. Other mods like decursive are totally gimped and force more labor on healers and casters. To make matters worse, the little patches and hot fixes have often interfered with even the smallest modifications like Chronometer or FuBar. Itís become very tedious trying to keep everything up-to-date.
The very refined experience TBC offers actually makes the leveling of alt characters somewhat painful. Going back to the (by comparison) uneven vanilla experience requires a considerable change of expectations after being in Outland. Moreover, itís actually somewhat too refined if anything. In six levels of Outland, the least likeable quest I can think of is collecting Spore Bat Eyes and Fen Strider Tentacles, and thatís only because the drop rate is a bit uneven and the Striders and Bats arenít densely concentrated. Plus, the first time through that quest, it wasnít clear that Marsh Walkers and Greater Spore Bats, despite being the same core type, arenít going to drop what I need. Compared to the menagerie of bad quests available in vanilla WoW, itís rather easy to lose perspective.
Amazing new zones
1.20 drops before TBC
What more can we say? It runs well, itís almost completely bug-free, the servers are good, the game scales mob spawn rates to keep up with demand, the quest log always has something for you to do and the instances are brief and enjoyable. Thereís no clearing of crap before you get to the Dead Mines or Maraudon proper, you no longer need to get 40 people together for a raidÖ itís not next-generation, but The Burning Crusade is as good as this generation of MMOs is going to get. Itís hard to fathom how Blizzard plans on improving matters in their next expansion.
The floods is threatíning
My very life today
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