After completing all the quests in Stonetalon, my rogue moved on to the Southern Barrens. This is another one of the zones that have been reworked completely, at least for Alliance, because it didn't actually used to have any content worth mentioning in that area. I enjoyed it for that newness alone, and a subtle reference to Mankrik's wife made me chuckle.
Camp Taurajo has been razed by the Alliance, and there's a quest to take care of some looters in the ruins. Like in Darkshore, there were named corpses all over the place, but for some reason it hardly affected me. Mind you, while my first ever Horde character was a tauren and levelled through the Barrens, I don't have the same kind of fond memories of the place that I have of Auberdine, so that definitely played a part, but I think part of it was also simply that I was playing the other faction. As such, dead enemies weren't really that interesting to me and I tried to mostly ignore them. I'm pretty sure that if I were to visit the place again as Horde, I'd feel very differently.
The one thing that disappointed me a little was that it was yet another zone that was focused on the Alliance vs. Horde conflict. Yes, I know it's a core part of the game, but that doesn't mean that I want all my quests to be about it all the time. Maybe it's just the levelling path I chose, but basically I went from Ashenvale (oh noes the Horde has taken Silverwind Refuge) to Stonetalon (oh noes the Horde wants to bomb us) to the Southern Barrens (oh noes the Horde is attacking Northwatch) and it just never seemed to end. Maybe it's my bias from usually playing Horde that made me a bit uncomfortable there after a while, though the fact that one of the quest givers was a complete jerk whom I just wanted to strangle didn't help either.
Moving on to Dustwallow Marsh, I found that this zone didn't appear to have been changed at all, except for some very, very minor tweaks to the geography and the like. It's understandable, seeing how it was already revamped once back in 2.3, which pretty much put it on par with Outland content. So it's less linear than the other zones now and you'll have to do do more running back and forth, but it's still good fun.
I was just slightly miffed that the missing diplomat type chain hasn't been updated either, except for Jaina laughing at you at the end and going "oh right they kidnapped Varian, lol, that was ages ago and he's back now". Okay, so she doesn't actually say that, but it sure felt like it.
I then randomly got out another alt, my warlock, and had a look at the new Arathi Highlands for a change of pace, the one zone that I had skipped during my paladin's otherwise pretty linear quest progression. I had heard some rumours that this zone was really bad and hadn't been updated properly, and I'm sad to say that it's all true. I don't know what it's like for the Horde as they have a new outpost on the western edge of the map, so I'm assuming that they must have some new content to tackle, but on Alliance side it's literally the same old, same old. It's telling that the Arathi Highlands quest achievement only requires you to complete 18 quests, the lowest number of all zones. How do you make it through five or more levels on so few quests? Easily, as they are still as grindy as they used to be in vanilla. After clearing my way into the kobold cave for the Myzrael quest, out again and then in again just to collect enough quest items, I was about ready to bang my head against a wall.
Basically, I imagine that the revamp of this zone happened like this: the designers had already finished every other zone in the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, but realised that they were running out of time until the expansion's release, so they decided to just give the zone an emergency clean-up along the lines of "okay, tell me five things that used to annoy you about Arathi Highlands and we'll change those".
"That guy Fozruk wandering all over the place; I could never find him when I needed him!" - "Okay, we'll just have him stand in front of that rock over here."
"That Forsaken courier patrol! They used to kill me all the time. And then when I got the quest to kill them they were once again nowhere to be found." - "Fine, we'll remove most of them and just leave one guy. And um, he'll just run in circles on this small piece of road as if he's confused about where he was meant to go. Yeah."
"Stromgarde was kind of fun, but it was annoying that you had to run in and out repeatedly to complete that quest with the tower." - "No problem, we'll just have a quest NPC in there that moves you right along."
"Speaking of running around, the Myzrael chain used to require you to go to the Badlands or something, didn't it?" - "Not anymore, it doesn't. Next!"
"Faldir's Cove is a cool place, but ninety-nine percent of players never even found it in the past!" - "Okay, let's carve a big tunnel towards it into the mountain and put a sign in front of it that says 'here be pirates'. And add a breadcrumb quest for good measure. Oops, we're out of time, so that will have to do."
I thought it was telling that when I first entered the zone, I could only pick up two quests at Refuge Pointe - one to kill lots of mobs in one corner of the map, and one to kill lots of mobs in the opposite corner of the map. /facepalm. And they even allowed Myzrael to remain an elite mob and technically a group quest, though I didn't even notice until she spawned and my warlock still soloed her with ease.
It was really kind of shocking. So many lovingly revamped zones and then a rush job like that. I always felt pretty neutral about Arathi, neither loving nor hating it, but with the quests in the surrounding zones being so much smoother, having nothing to do except grind endless amounts of elementals, ogres and syndicate mobs all across the map sure made this one stick out like a sore thumb. I seriously hope that Blizzard is going to give it a proper revamp in one of the upcoming content patches.
LOTRO and the Great Server Merge
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