Blizzcon: Diving Into the Hordes Part 2

This past weekend I got to flex my gamer nerd muscles at Blizzcon, well really, pretty much just in the World of Warcraft arena. I held up fairly well during intellectual challenges over healer strategies and itemization, who needed Player versus Player nerfs (rogues!) and the best and worst bosses in game.

Best boss in my opinion? Hard to choose just one, but Shade of Aran has always held a special place in my heart. The worst boss in game is the "frogger gauntlet" in Naxxramas, where you have to dodge lines of slowly moving killer slimes. Those slimes hate me. I wasn't even close.

To get back on topic -- I can talk about World of Warcraft and the expansion changes until the cows come home, but how was I supposed to play the demo without my gazillion user interface addons?! Or worse yet, no keybindings?! At least that's what I'd tell anyone in the press room who saw my demo goblin die in ridiculously stupid ways.  Also, have you ever tried to duel someone on a level one character? It's awesomely silly. And I kept dying to other level one players. Again, I blame the keybindings. Also, I've never played a warrior before.

Banks of gamers working on their quests.

Unequivocally, the most exciting parts of the expansion are the new zones, instances and quests. For old, jaded players like myself, leveling multiple characters can get to be a chore. It's not very exciting when you're working on your fifth character and revisiting the same areas and same quests you've already done four times. Especially the kind of quests where the questgiver tells you to run somewhere ten minutes away and kill blue ghouls, and when you turn it in, he tells you to run back to the same place and kill five red ghouls. Argh! He couldn't have told me the first time that he needed two kinds of ghouls from the same place?!

The Blizzard representatives I spoke to told me that they had completely re-quested Azeroth and that the new quests were designed to be less grind-y and more fun that the old ones. The new quests are a big incentive for me to start a new character. 

Exploring new zones is also a big draw for me. Blizzard is famous for beautiful, creative and complex game environments. The graphics have been upgraded, allowing higher resolution settings for players with fancier computers. I was told that developers were particularly proud of the enhanced water and shadow visual effects. And the water looks amazing. You can see it in the goblin starting area.

According to the Blizzard representatives, a key consideration in designing the new zones was to create environments not previously seen before in World of Warcraft. For example, new underwater and subterranean zones. In addition, they wanted to fill in the gaps of areas of old, pre-Cataclysm Azeroth. One example is Mount Hyjal. Many of us have seen the outside of Mount Hyjal, and now we'll be able to explore the rest of it. Let's just hope that they've reduced Archimonde's aggro range. 

Finally, the new instances and boss fights. While I want to experience the new low level quests on a new character – what do I do with my level 80 main character? I've spent most of my time raiding over the past several years and the challenges offered by highly complex boss fights are my favorite part of the game. New five-man and 10 and 25-man instances have been added with some regularity to provide end game content.

The Guild cast members with Rachel Hoyer.

The expansion will also revamp many existing instances and boss fights including a boss from the original World of Warcraft: Onyxia in honor of the five year anniversary (Woot!). Blizzard is sticking with the hardmode option first introduced in the Ulduar patch.

Developers told me that they want even casual players to be able to see all of the game content, but they also want to provide a challenge for more dedicated players. In other words, casual players will be able to complete end game instances and see all of the boss fights, but the hardmode instance setting is available to increase the difficulty for those who want a challenge.

Likewise, epics will continue to be obtainable by casual players, but the epics with the highest stat values will only drop from hardmode encounters. Note that new low level instances are also being introduced, for those of us who will be leveling up a new character. 

Other changes to the game include two new races, higher level cap, the secondary profession of archaeology, the reforging skill, an overhaul of class mechanics, new PvP options, the addition of guild achievements and a handful of others. Frankly, while likely to make gameplay more enjoyable (except much undeserved nerfs to certain classes), these changes are just gravy.

This isn't what is going to excite people like me about the game. It's content, content, content. I'm not sure that the expansion will draw more new players into the game. At least, not directly. However, when an existing player gets enthusiastic about the new content and decides to spend the many hours involved in leveling up a new character -- maybe a friend or relative will decide to join them. After all, the whole point of playing is to have a good time with your friends.

Blizzcon attendees pack the Ozzy Ozbourne concert.

It's easy to forget how many people are really out there playing World of Warcraft, but BlizzCon really brought that home. There were tens of thousands of attendees, and those are just the fans that were able to get tickets.

There was a strong sense of community at the event, and you'd always wind up talking to the people around you about various aspects of World of Warcraft as you stood in an epic line to get Felicia Day's autograph or a Murloc figurine. I even bonded with some Alliance members. Don't tell my guild.

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