Sunday, October 28, 2012

Return to Azeroth


“I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I’m all outta bubblegum.”

Two weeks ago I began playing the (in)famous game World of Warcraft again. Despite my list of pros and cons having the cons slightly ahead, I ended up heading back into Azeroth for another round of adventuring and questing. The last time I actively played was during the expansion Wrath of the Lich King, specifically, patch 3.2 “Call of the Crusade”. Since I said my goodbyes to my Guild back in January 2010,  two expansions have come out - Cataclysm (October 2010) and Mists of Pandaria (September 2012), with “MoP” putting the game patch version at 5.0.x. Cataclysm made some pretty major changes to the game, especially in the layout of some of the zones and the ability to use flying mounts in Azeroth proper.1 So much has changed, that I almost don’t know where to begin. For example, it’s rather embarrassing, being that I play an Orc, to say that I now get lost in the Orcs’ capital city of Orgrimmar because it’s changed so dramatically since last I played. Not only have classic zones been revamped, but the game system itself has changed quite a bit as well.


Class and Race Combinations:

To briefly summarize, for those that may not be familiar with the game, classic, “vanilla”, WoW included eight playable races. For the Alliance - Human, Night Elf, Dwarf, and Gnome; For the Horde - Orc, Troll, Tauren, and Undead . There were also nine classes - Warrior, Mage, Druid, Priest, Shaman, Hunter, Rogue, Paladin, and Warlock. Burning Crusade (patch 2.0) added two races; Dranei for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde. Adding Blood Elves to the Horde also gave that faction a race that could play the Paladin class for the first time.  Wrath of the Lich King (patch 3.0) added a new class; the Death Knight.

Cataclysm (patch 4.0) added two new races to the game - for the Alliance, the Worgen and for the Horde, Goblins. These races, most notably Goblins, had always been present, just not as a playable race. This expansion also added several new options for Race-Class combinations, such as Paladin as an option for the Taurens, giving the Horde two races who could play that class instead of just one, and compared the the three races within the Alliance that could be Paladins. There are several other new combinations as well with classes being added as options for races that previously were not possible.


Mists of Pandaria (patch 5.0), which I have not purchased a license for yet,3 adds a new playable race, Pandaren, as well as a new class, Monk. Yeah, I know - apparently the folks at Blizzard watched a lot of “Kung Fu Panda” while working on ideas for the fourth expansion.

New Zones, Rearranged Zones, and Flying Around in All of It:

A few months after Cataclysm had come out, and roughly a year after I had quit playing, I was offered ten days of free game time as an enticement. I took the ten free days because I wanted to see what had changed about the zones. Ten days wasn’t nearly enough time to explore all of it, though. But the new ability to use flying mounts almost everywhere certainly makes it a bit easier.

First of all, flying mounts were previously only usable in Outland, which was introduced in patch 2.0 Burning Crusade (which also introduced flying mounts to begin with) and Northrend (patch 3.0 Wrath of the Lich King) once the Cold Weather Flying skill was purchased. Now, though, flying is available anywhere, even in the classic zones, once the character has purchased the skill called Flight Master’s License (a mere 250 gold).4  Getting the Flight Master’s License is, without a doubt, a necessity to be able to quest and explore for higher level characters.

There are, frankly, too many changes here for me to try to go into all of them, especially since I have had the time to explore it all yet. Some of the more notable (to me) changes are Orgrimmar, the capital city of the Orcs and the Barrens. Orgrimmar looks completely different now and is multi-tiered with lifts to get to the upper tier. There’s been new construction under the new Warchief as well. The city is actually larger now, and I mentioned before, I get lost in it, but I’m learning my way around. The Barrens has been split into two zones, Northern Barrens and Southern Barrens, instead of just one huge zone. I’m pretty sure that prior to the Cataclysm, it was the largest zone in the game. I hated questing in the Barrens, just because of the sheer size of it, and at levels that were too low to be able to get the riding skill and a mount. Now that it’s been split in two, with the Northern Barrens being a lower level zone and Southern Barrens being a mid-level zone, it’s not quite as bad and questing in that zone from levels 10-20 gets completed a lot faster. For more information, check out the WoWWiki Cataclysm page.

Other Stuff of Note:

There are lots of other things that have changed that I am continuing to discover, but to be honest, this blog post would begin getting out of hand (or turn into a two or three part blog over the next few weeks) if I started trying to detail every little thing. There are new guild recruiting and search tools, certain things, like mounts, etc. that were previously “soulbound” to a character are now account bound and useable by any character. Flight points, which previously had to be discovered, are now automatically added as a character levels up so they know them for the zones that are level appropriate to them. Patch 5.04 added something called “Pet Battles” wherein companion, non-combat, pets that were obtained more to get an achievement for collecting them, can now be trained for do battle (albeit, only with other battle pets). Gathering professions such as skinning and herbalism no grant experience points. Speaking of experience points, the experience gains from from quests and combat seem to have been dramatically increased (at least at lower levels). Drop rates have improved - I refer here most notably to the previously mentioned zone, the Barrens, where you’d have to kill four or five beasts to get the one hoof or horn or whatever the fuck the quest called for. Now it’s more like kill two to get one (much much better than before). Archeology was added as another secondary skill - the previous list of secondary skills was First Aid, Cooking and Fishing.

I’ve only been back in the game for a couple of weeks, and I haven’t even bought the most recent expansion yet, so I’m sure I’ll uncover more fun new stuff that wasn’t there before. But for now, I’m just enjoying the adventure.

~ JC

Footnotes:

1. By “Azeroth proper” I mean the original zones located on the continents of Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor. Flying mounts were introduced in the first expansion, Burning Crusade, and were only usable in the area known as “Outland”. They were also allowed in the area “Northrend” which was introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. Cataclysm allowed Blizzard to completely revamp and rewrite the code for the original areas making flying mounts possible there.

2. Previously the only Horde race that could choose Paladin were Blood Elves (compared to Human, Dwarf and Dranei for the Alliance).

3. In other words, while I have access to most of the new content, purchasing a license for the most recent expansion would allow me full access to play a Pandaren or a Monk as well as new dungeon and raid content.

4. I could go into a whole rant about how certain things in the game are obviously designed to be a huge gold sink while other things have been extremely reduced in price since I first started playing, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that I really wish Blizzard would make up their mind about how much the riding skills will cost in terms of in-game currency because it still seems unbalanced to me. I mean, really - 5,000 gold to learn fast flying and another 5,000 for very fast flying - Why?
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