By Al Bickham on December 14th, 2010 at 11:45 am.
More Azerothian adventures from our WoW correspondent Bickers – earlier installments are here.
I honestly don’t know whether to blame my initial frustration at Cataclysm’s level 80+ starting zones on the design decisions involved, or the fact that I willingly joined a PVP server.
With depressing frequency, yet another group of opposing-faction players rolls into the zone and picks off solo levellers like myself. We’re easy meat, and easy honour-points for such groups. I suspect they’ve done the local quests already, and are simply grinding out honour-points as currency for their new endgame PVP gear.
I enjoy PVP, generally speaking; the risk of random encounters can offer real flutters of excitement, although I’m a bit of a wuss and rarely instigate fights myself. But the utter gank-rampancy going on at the moment is just crackers.
This is, of course, a problem specific to being a solo leveller on a PVP server, in a cross-faction zone. Cataclysm’s early 80+ levelling areas are compact, linear, and unlike WoTLK’s 70+ areas, they’re not faction-specific. They throw Horde and Alliance together, to pick up quests from the same NPCs in the same territories. The immediate portal-in areas funnel the two factions into pea-pod proximity, and for me, it’s been pure carnage.
I know, I know, if you don’t want PVP, don’t join a PVP server… Still, I preferred Lich King’s approach of faction-specific starting zones with natural crossover points.
After some hours of trying to throw myself into the quests against a backdrop of endless interruption and corpse-runs, I quit the verdant, ganky hills of Mount Hyjal for the sub-aquatic charms of Vashj’ir, off the coast of the Eastern Kingdoms. I’ll stress again that is a problem peculiar to people in my position, and is no kind of issue on PvE servers. That’s precious little consolation when you’re a ghost with a group of corpse-campers hovering nearby, however.
Since coming to Vashj’ir, I haven’t looked back. The zone presents a more expansive starting area and, as a result, you come into contact with the opposing faction with less frequency. As an alliance character, your journey here begins with a quest in Stormwind (although once you’ve done the initial boat-and-cutscene trip, you can portal directly there, as you can to Mount Hyjal, from Stormwind itself). Sent by a Stormwind recruiter to fight the horde at sea with a band of local soldiers, your boat pulls up alongside a capsized alliance ship off the coast. Giant tentacles rise from the waves to grip the rigging, and your ship is dragged under.
You’re flung into the water, and just as you’re sinking to a watery grave, a friendly NPC casts a breathing bubble around you. You pass out, and awake in the air-filled hold of a sunken ship. It’s here that your sea-floor adventures in Vashj’ir begin in earnest.
It’s a more thematically interesting zone than Mount Hyjal, and I found it immediately charming. Your first quest sees you collecting reagents for a fantastical SCUBA device, which also confers speedier swimming and enables you to bound along the sea-floor like Neil Armstrong after a particularly calorific space-meal. The scenery is lush, complex, and insanely colourful.
Where you might see one flavour of critter in a land-zone – a vole, or a rabbit, say, scampering across the ground – the sea teems with creatures of all descriptions, darting in and out of bellying kelp-beds, skittering over brain-corals or playing hide-and-seek with giant licky tubeworms. A word of warning: the colossal Whalesharks care not for your tier-10 gearing, and will knock your block off with one flick of the fluke.
In Vashj’ir, the world works in three dimensions. This doesn’t make combat as irksome as it sounds, as mobs tend to adjust exactly to the height you’re at, which saves you the bother. The quest-chains soon lead you to the taming of your own seahorse, a super-speedy underwater mount. At this point, the sea’s your oyster.
I’ve enjoyed the progression here considerably, although there doesn’t seem to be the level of tucked-away variety that you find elsewhere in the world. You get the sense that you’re doing all the quests there are to do in the area, unlike the rest of Azeroth, where you almost always have a choice of districts in any given area that dole out quests for your level.
That said, I’m loving the quests here. I’ve filled leaky oxygen-tanks from sea-floor bubble-streams for a narcissistic Gnomish geologist. I’ve gone snail-hunting for a botanist who’s investigating how animals gain access to the titanic mollusc that forms the central terrain feature of the entire zone; it’s as big as St Paul’s Cathedral. I’ve ridden a killer shark around at breakneck speed to perform darting attacks on the Naga, whose activities have upset the ecosystem and left the sharks without a food source. There’s something enormously fun about gobbling them down in a cloud of chum. In short, there’s a lot of colour down here, both literally and figuratively.
The gear-drops are interesting. When my first Green item dropped, excitement warred with a sense of dismay. It had taken me so many hours of instancing to get where I was at level 80, then suddenly… the first bit of trash to drop was higher level (272 over my current 264 set). After a sit-down with a cup of tea and a ciggie though, I did the calculations and realised that, actually, this gear isn’t a patch on what I’m wearing.
The item level may be higher, but the stats on my current set – gemmed, enchanted and re-forged as it is – far outweigh those conferred by Cataclysm’s early drops. The greens aren’t even socketed of course, so no gem-action there. Phew – trader trash after all. My hard grind in the six months before the launch of Cataclysm hasn’t been in vain, and that’s immensely pleasing.
I’ve just begun tackling Cataclysms level 80-85 instances to see what they offer. More thinky-thunks on those soon, when I’ve rinsed them over a few times.