A Tale of Two Starting Zones

Having completed a rather lengthy download and install, I log into the Beta client triumphantly … only to discover that the servers are down. Whoops. That was anti-climactic. So, I go off and do something else for a while – and when I next return, the servers are up! Joyous day of days!

As excited as I was to kick off my second Grand Beta Adventure, though, this little incident did strike a tiny warning bell in the back of my mind regarding the server stability. Said warning bell would be proven quite right as my adventure continued – while Kalimdor, the Eastern Kingdoms, Outland, and even the instance servers are all fine and dandy, Blizzard seems to be running Northrend on an older server they’d been using as a doorstop before realizing they needed something to host us Beta-ers on. Adventuring sure is fun when your spells won’t cast – but really, it’s fine; there aren’t any mobs around to cast them on anyways!

But, *cough* I digress. Where was I?

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Ah, yes. Logging in. Coincidentally enough, I entered the Beta servers in roughly the same place I’d left them the last time, back in Shattrath. Of course, Outland is passé and so 2007, so we couldn’t have that! I had to get to Northrend! The question, then: …how? Of course, I’d heard about the new zeppelin routes, so being the practical Mage I am, I teleported to Orgrimmar and rode to the zeppelin tower, where I proceeded to wait. The zeppelin to Grom’Gol came, and I waited. The zeppelin to Undercity came, and I waited some more. By the time the Grom’Gol flight had arrived a second time, I was beginning to get antsy.

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Then I turned around, saw a second zeppelin tower on the other side of Orgrimmar’s entrance, and felt slightly silly. After regaining the tattered shreds of my pride, I mounted up and rode to that other tower. Within a minute, another dirigible (this one with fancy headlights and a balloon painted like a shark’s mouth) had arrived, and my journey had truly begun!

An interesting observation – the zeppelins and ships that one uses to travel in the Old World of Classic WoW are now not only named but crewed with NPCs with whom you can actually interact. (Sadly, I couldn’t find Captain Placeholder – but I didn’t look very hard, so maybe he’s still there. We shan’t give up hope!) For instance, the boat from Auberdine to Stormwind (formerly Menethil) is the Bravery. It’s a very nice touch that makes Azeroth feel a bit more alive and real … of course, the new vessels that lead to Northrend are, like the ships and zeppelins of old, completely empty and unmanned. It’s a bit jarring, and sort of perplexing that Blizzard would go and flesh out this old content but leave the new stuff bare-boned.

Ah, there I go again. Apologies. Ahem. Yes! I was on my way, my way … to Northrend!

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After a loading screen featuring a rather evil-looking guy – whose name escapes me at the moment … but really, I think I’ve seen him before and he seems sort of important (Witch King? Stitch King? Fish King? Something like that) – the Zeppelin arrived and entered the massive and imposing fortress of Warsong Hold in the Borean Tundra. Now, I’m not entirely sure when exactly the Warsong Clan found the time to build something like this in between such bloodthirsty acts as capturing a flag, but I’m not feeling the need to argue with people who have such a phenomenal construction department.

It was here, my first flight into Warsong Hold gaping open-mouthed the entire time, that I learned the first real thing about Wrath of the Lich King: Northrend is really, really, pretty. But hold that thought; I’ll get back to it in a bit.

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As I disembarked off the zeppelin, I noticed that there were two things wrong with the picture. The first was simply my own error: since I have Big Important Plans for this time around, I’d meant to start off Horde-side with my Mage in the Howling Fjord. The Borean Tundra I’d planned on leaving (initially) to my Druid – yes, Alliance, I have a level 70 of your kind now, so I’ll be getting the chance to explore Northrend from the Ally point of view this time around. So by being in the Tundra on my Mage, my plans were already in jeopardy! But really, that was an easy problem, and one I could fix quickly with a simple port to the Undercity. A port … that wasn’t casting.

That was the second thing – Warsong Hold was empty. As I ran around the mammoth structure with my hands still glowing with teleport-y power (and proceeded to become rather lost), I didn’t see a single NPC. There was nothing there at all.

One server crash later, I logged back into the Borean Tundra and found that the NPCs had all returned in my absence. Hooray!

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I further explored the Hold, and upon finding a way out watched as flying undead … things … descended upon assembled ranks of Horde warriors. As a hot-blooded Darkspear Troll who loves Home, Country, and Momma’s Fresh Apple-And-Scorpid Pie, there are naturally few things in this world or any other that I loathe more than flying undead … things.

So I set some of them on fire. I felt much better about myself afterwards.

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Returning back inside Warsong Hold, a little more exploring brought me face to face with the commanders of the Hold: Garrosh Hellscream and High Overlord Saurfang. I briefly wondered if Saurfang were still standing in Orgrimmar waiting to skewer some more black dragon heads onto pikes, or if Garrosh were still standing in Nagrand being all emo (or badass, depending on if you’ve done the quest or not) … but on second thought, I decided not to question their ability to be in two places – or indeed two different mindsets – at once. I rather like my head attached to my shoulders, you see … and I didn’t know where the nearest graveyard was yet.

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The two discuss the logistics of operating a forward base like Warsong Hold in the midst of a hostile land, surrounded by enemies like the Undead and stealthed Gnome Rogues who spam /spit at our hapless questgivers. Saurfang stresses the need for supply lines, while Garrosh believes in kicking reason to the curb and doing the impossible based on a true man’s warrior spirit! Fighting spirit won’t keep troops fed, though.

You know, this begs the question – what use are supply lines when Mages can literally conjur food and drink from thin air? I mean really – if the two of them would deign to help me summon, I could have a magical table to feed hundreds of soldiers (or twenty-five really greedy ones) ready within seconds! Hell, give me five minutes and I could make another one! Not like they log out, either.

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For that matter, why is it that we can only conjur different types of bread? Perhaps I shouldn’t think too much about this, because now I’m having visions of a very spiteful and possessive Nether-Bakery that supplies all our conjuring needs and frowns upon competition. It’s best not to dwell.

Anyway, it seems that upon regaining his father’s spirit, Garrosh Hellscream has perhaps slightly overcompensated for his earlier malaise, and is now in the mood to smash slightly more skulls than he maybe should be. He also interestingly enough refers to the “razing of Orgrimmar,” which is another puzzling thing because as far as I know, the dude’s never been there before. And hell, I’d just come from there, and it looked fine to me. I submit that Garrosh has gone slightly loopy.

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Saurfang might agree with that, as he reminds Garrosh that although the two of them certainly kick ass, they don’t need to kick everybody’s ass. There are people who they really just don’t need to kill. He then starts telling Garrosh about the things he and his other warriors had done while under the blood-curse of Mannoroth such as slaughtering helpless Draenei children, and that despite what the younger Orc might think, “let’s kill everybody!” is not always the best solution to one’s problems.

It’s actually a very interesting conversation, and I’d have loved to stay and watch it play out in full … but with another server crash I decide to get the hell out of Dodge and head back to Undercity to make my way to the Howling Fjord.

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Like Orgrimmar, Undercity has a brand new zeppelin tower. Unlike Orgrimmar, this one is actually right next to the tower that’s already there, and so it’s much, much harder to miss. I briefly pause to open a portal to Shattrath (psh, still so 2007) for a lowbie Death Knight, and while doing so envy the fact that they actually get really cool-looking mounts.

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After my envy has passed, I board the again-empty Zeppelin to head to the Howling Fjord!

I’d touched on this before, and I will mention it again, likely multiple times: the new Wrath of the Lich King zones are absolutely beautiful. I am incredibly thankful that I’ve actually got a semi-decent gaming PC that can run this at full settings instead of my old, clunky laptop because Blizzard has really outdone themselves. This is true technologically – the draw distance seems better, the models look to have a higher polygon count, and some of the new spell effects are far and away beyond what we saw in vanilla WoW or even TBC – but especially true artistically. I’ve only really gotten the chance to explore bits and pieces of the two starting zones thus far, and I’m still being flabbergasted by what I see.

Blizzard has outdone themselves. Everything is gorgeous. This will almost certainly come up again, so consider yourselves warned.

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I poke around Vengeance Landing and talk to the head honcho, High Executor Anselm. As opposed to some of the other NPCs (particularly the Alliance ones as I’ll get to in a second), the Undead seem to have been taking correspondence courses from the Nathanos Blightcaller School of Snarky Quest-Giving and all act like I should be grateful they just asked me to go help feed their Plaguehound or what not. Lousy snarky Forsaken.

After setting my hearthstone, I decide that it’s time to go see what’s what on the Alliance side of things, and log onto my level 70 Ally: The Druid They Call Tieria.

…doesn’t work as well as I’d hoped. Hm. I’ll think of something.

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As Druids have no handy-dandy teleport and for whatever reason I’d set my hearthstone in Area 52, I take advantage of the reworked boat paths and port to Moonglade, taking a short flight to Auberdine and boarding the Bravery bound for Stormwind.

Even though it’s technically Old-World content, Stormwind Harbor, like everything else in this damn expansion pack, is really pretty. Easily the most breathtaking thing in the city, and I’m torn between feeling envy towards the Alliance (uh, not including myself) for having something so damn cool in one of their home cities, or pity for them because they’ve spent four years here and apparently never known that all you had to do to access a functional harbor was make a tiny little tunnel. As a Night Elf Druid who certainly experienced the ol’ Wetlands Corpse-Hop, I sympathize.

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Having raided on my Druid for a while, I decide to try out the new Feral tree, and toss my healing gear in the bank for some other time. I (completely unintentionally) earn a new Achievement by falling 65 yards and surviving due to Cat form, which was nice. And then, it was off to Northrend! …again!

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Incidentally, the (nonexistent) crew of the boat to the Borean Tundra isn’t very good at docking. There’s about a five-foot gap between the side of the boat and the dock which makes for both comedy (when you make the jump) and frustration (when you take a nice swim).

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Upon arriving in Valiance Keep, I disembark and explore the town. Yes, it’s very pretty, and feels much more “alive” than most other towns in the world. There’s a lot going on, including a line of civilians waiting to enlist and fight the Scourge because Uncle Bolvar Wants You! Well, not YOU, You. I meant… THEM, You.

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You know what? Let’s … just move on.

As opposed to the unholier-than-thou Undead questgivers, the Alliance NPCs seem to recognize that I am, in fact, a big shot. I’m apparently rather renowned due to my awesomeness and badassery in Outland, and so I get to cut the line and skip the red tape entirely – they send me straight to talk to the commander in charge of things. One of the civilians in the line asks me if I think I’m too good to stand with the rest of them? Yes. Yes I do.

It’s silly when you think about it, because literally every player who comes through here is going to be given the same accolades and praise that everyone else gets … but it’s still a little warm fuzzy feeling; they do a good job at making you feel like an actual hero.

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Upon talking to the commander of Valiance Keep (and watching him perplexingly turn down an offer from a Draenei ambassador to send reinforcements because his civilians-turned-soldiers are apparently too dumb and superstitious to accept help from Space Paladins), I’m sent to another officer, who tells me to go slaughter Nerubians. Sure, I can do that.

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However, as I run out of the keep to find that the server is again having a bad case of the gremlins and everything seems to be standing still, I decide that combat might be a bad idea under those conditions. Luckily, there’s another quest nearby: a medic who is trying to treat poisoned soldiers, but lacks the antidote to do so. Said antidote is conveniently in the cargo hold of a recently-arrived ship, so he asks me to go get it. I do, but upon descending into the hold I am set upon by members of the Cult of the Damned. Now, they’re called “Clandestine Cultists,” but there’s nothing very clandestine about having a wicked altar with skulls on it right out in plain view and attacking anyone who comes down into the hold, now is there?

I mean, really. This is ostensibly a cargo ship that has come delivering badly-needed supplies to war-weary forces in Northrend. Cargo ships generally use their cargo hold to carry cargo (how bizarre, I know) … so one would think that there would be at least some traffic in and out of the place, right? You’d think someone would have reported that there were Evil Death Cultists down there with an openly visible Evil Death Cult Evil Skull Altar of Evil Doom. Pretty sure that wouldn’t be on the cargo manifesto.

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Having slaughtered these Evil Death Cultists, I take the news to the ship’s captain who acts genuinely surprised. He maintains that the cultists must be sneakier than expected, and worries that they’ve infiltrated some of the other ships. I maintain that he should probably realize that “If the Lich King commands it!” is probably not proper naval speak.

As the server teetered towards another crash, I decided that it was probably a sign that I should get some shut-eye, because that particular Fatigue debuff is a doozy. I’d also forgotten how long these things can get … so I think here’s a nice place to pause for a while.

But don’t lose hope, my friends. My tales don’t end here! Coming up next, well … there are dungeons to be run, and we’ll get to introducing the rest of the team – this time, I’m not alone in adventuring! As I said last time, anyone in the Beta is perfectly welcome to join us …

… but we’ll get to that later. The journey is just getting started, after all.

See you next time!

-TMTCJ(z)

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