A goblin in Azshara and Ashenvale

I rolled a goblin priest to see the goblin starter area some time ago. Those zones seems to be the kind of content that people either love or hate, and unfortunately my reaction fell on the negative side of the spectrum. Kezan and the Lost Isles just felt nothing like the Azeroth I used to know, and while I can generally appreciate pop culture references and the like, the goblins went overboard with it in my opinion.

So once I had seen what it was all about, I parked my little priest in Orgrimmar and didn't touch her for the next couple of months. I've found that not playing a character for a while gives them time to settle, and possible negative associations from the past are given time to dissipate. So I finally felt ready to play my goblin again the other week and took her to Azshara.

Azshara is a sort of continuation of the goblin starter experience, but officially open to all races and not quite as silly. Yes, the hyper-intelligent raptor that escaped into space with a rocket was a bit mind-boggling, and then there was that whole affair with Azuregos and the spirit healer. What the...? However, a lot of the zone was about fighting night elves and naga and typical wildlife, and I was happy.

I saw a comment on someone else's blog, I don't remember by whom, who said that Blizzard had "destroyed" Azshara with Cataclysm. It's certainly not the quiet and empty land it used to be, but... don't get me wrong, I certainly appreciated the old Azshara, but let's not kid ourselves: emptiness is cheap. Azshara was what it was due to Blizzard failing to do anything useful with it, not due to any intentional design making it awesome. They did the same thing again in Cataclysm in some areas, so if you miss that feeling of being lost in a landscape that is nothing else but land, you can always go for a stroll through Alterac. (Or actually, Gilneas works quite well too, due to so many things being phased.)

While Gallywix is ugly as sin, I have to admit that I still found this display oddly awe-inspiring.

Meanwhile, Azshara offers lots of questing fun now and I think it's a solid experience, though I had one problem here that I haven't managed to have in any other post-Cata zone: I managed to lose the plot. Suddenly I had no more quests in my log, even though I still had a good quarter of the zone left according to the quest achievement, and I was sitting out in the middle of nowhere, lost. I then spent about half an hour driving around the zone on my annoying-sounding trike, until I finally found a quest on a lonely mountain peak which then reconnected me with the rest of the story.

I wasn't sure how I felt about that. On the one hand it's nice to engage your own brain in search of quest givers every once in a while instead of blindly following a breadcrumb trail all the time. But if the entire zone is designed around the idea that you will be following the breadcrumb trail along fifty different mini-hubs, losing the plot is annoying because it could literally be anywhere. How I longed for just being able to check three different quest hubs for updates instead of having to peek into every nook and cranny of the zone in search of that lone missing exclamation mark.

I also felt bad about ending the zone by killing the former Alliance flight master.

I continued onwards to Ashenvale. For comparison, I wrote about how I experienced the zone on Alliance side in this post a few months ago. Horde side was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to me. Oh cool, I get to ride around on a kodo. Argh, why are we killing all these night elves and I'm not allowed to join in? Why am I doomed to watching passively as the cut scene plays out? Combat cut scenes seriously need to go, considering that's the basic unit of WoW gameplay.

There were a couple of NPCs that I liked, like that orc couple where the guy made me pick flowers for his lady and she made me collect fel fire. It made me like the Horde. I was quite happy to slaughter generic night elves by the dozen, and I was absolutely delighted to see that the three named beasts from The Ashenvale Hunt were still around and dropping quest items.

Around the third time or so when I walked through Silverwind Refuge, I noticed that there were actually night elf corpses on the ground still... and named ones. Agrnagvekf. I didn't really remember them very well, but I found myself wondering which one of them had sold me the expert cookbook back in the day. Suddenly I hated being Horde.

Emotional turmoil aside, seeing the Alliance vs. Horde conflict in Ashenvale play out from both sides was also a bit strange. I've talked about how quests running in parallel on both sides can make for a more interesting story, and to some extent this is happening in Ashenvale, but it's all very inconclusive. The Horde has you bombing Astranaar and then happily sends you on your way with a pat on the back. But didn't I put all those fires out as Alliance? Didn't I save Astranaar? So Alliance wins, technically? Likewise a Horde quest sends me to corrupt the Forest Heart, and I do, but I know from Alliance side that they cleanse it afterwards. At Splintertree Post I fought off not one, but two major night elf attacks, but the attackers never really went away entirely. And at Raynewood Retreat the Horde kills the local Alliance leader, but the Alliance lays massive waste to the Horde army on their side of the quest. They then say that I saved the place, but did I really?

Silverwind Refuge is the only area where it's completely clear who won, but that happened before I even got there. Anything I contributed to the war effort made no particular difference from what I could tell. That's actually not a bad thing in principle, but what bothered me a little was that I couldn't tell whether that was by design, or whether the developers simply didn't want to tell Horde players that they lost those fights... because knowing what I knew from Alliance side, it kind of felt like they should have.

Next zones coming up in review from Horde side whenever I get around to it: Desolace, Southern Barrens, Thousand Needles.


  1. I tested goblins recently. I made it to level 7 within three days. It's not exactly bad. It's just not for me.

    Losing breadcrumbs while you know that you are not expected to lose them is not good. Expectation management is important. I can absolutely love an empty zone that is beautifully done, like old Azshara. All that is necesasary is that I feel like it is supposed to be this way and not a phasing bug.

  2. It might've been me, I did complain about Azshara in particular, and your post about Old Tanaris was the trigger for that.

    Of course, Blizzard didn't leave Azshara the way it was for years by design. They certainly had plans that never came to fruition. You're also right that from a development time perspective, it's a waste to leave a zone as empty as Azshara.

    On the other hand, if we're talking about worlds, then mostly empty places are an important part. Worlds have deserts and unexplored regions. They might even have places that were abandoned centuries ago (think Roman towns, or abandoned cities due to desertification). From a game perspective, an empty zone is a waste. From a virtual world perspective, it makes a lot of sense in my opinion, and adds to the overall experience.

    It obviously doesn't help that of all races, the goblins invaded Azshara. ;) For the same reasons as you and Nils, I disliked the goblin starter area. I never even finished it.

    It's good to know though that Alterac might fill that place these days. Maybe I'll go and check it out before my subscription runs out. :)

  3. I sometimes wonder whether Blizz expects people to only play one faction these days, because of things like you just mentioned. There was a similar disconnect that I had when going through the zone on both sides, and it felt like they tried to make you feel good no matter what faction you were on.

    Big mistake, if you ask me.

    If you're at war, it's not a given that your side is going to win. You will have setbacks, and you might just lose. If you don't have the connection to what came before in the pre-Cata world, you're just not going to understand some of the references that are supposed to make you feel bad about how things are.

    The emotional impact of the questlines in the Old World rely heavily on the knowledge of what things were like pre-Cata. If you came to WoW post-Cata, you're going to understand that you're missing out on part of the story in spots, but you don't know what it is. That isn't necessarily bad by itself, but when you rely too much on the previous questlines to provide the impact, you concede that you primarily wrote the game for the current players, not any new ones.

    Now, there are zones where they did a great job and didn't rely upon previous in zone questlines to create strong emotional impact (Badlands, to name one) but the application was done unevenly throughout the Old World. In a way, we got the post-Cata Old World with a lot of the same issues as the pre-Cata Old World, but just in different locations.

  4. Regarding Astranaar, I just thought of it as the Horde annoying the NElves, not so much trying to actually raze the town. If they really wanted to destroy or claim the place, they would hit it in force and banish the Spirit Healers.

    ...but yeah, games like this really don't work to show war, because in war, things *change*, sometimes very quickly. The most we'll ever get is a shadow play. (Seriously, you can't win a war when everyone is effectively immortal anyway. At best you can just occupy space for a time.)

  5. @Flosch: Like I said in my own post about old Azshara that I linked above, I can definitely appreciate an area largely devoid of quests as well. I just don't think that any specific zone has to play that role forever, as long as there is some "quiet space" somewhere in the game, and WoW still has some. Emptiness is easy to recreate.

    I also liked that double Azuregos screenshot you included in your own post; I have one of those as well. I think he was one of those sights that you simply couldn't help but be impressed by. :)

    @Redbeard: I think it's hard to say how much knowledge of the pre-Cata world affects one's reception of the updated quests. I can't imagine the quests about Auberdine having nearly as much of an impact if you've never been there before the Shattering, but in most other cases I think references to the past are just a nice bonus and I reckon that new players can still enjoy the story for what it's worth.

    @Tesh: It mostly confused me because they absolutely can and do give you quests about being at war but not making a major difference in other zones. It's really as simple as saying something like: "Thanks for helping us thin out the enemy lines for now." But the Ashenvale quests all have a pretty definitive "well done, we won" feel about them, which just doesn't make sense when it's coming from both sides at once.

  6. I wonder if we are supposed to feel like the conflict in Ashenvale is ongoing? With the only definite "victory" happening before you were there? Of all the contested zones, that's basically always been THE Horde vs. Alliance struggle in a nutshell.

    Also, thank you for telling me that Commander Jarrodenus was a former Flight Master. I had no idea! And now he's a perfect candidate for a Letter. :D

  7. @Rades: I don't mind ongoing conflict, but as I said in reply to Tesh's comment above, it's weird because the quests made me feel like my side had won.

    And I can't really take the credit for identifying Jarrodenus ^^, he just seemed vaguely familiar so I looked him up on Wowhead, and commenter DrCheis there confirmed my suspicions with a link to the NPC's old version.

  8. @Shintar: There was another reason for that screenshot: it was the only interesting one I had from "old" Azshara. I'm not much of a screenshot collector, I ended up with less than 500 screenshots in 6 years of WoW.

    Of course, the reason why I made this screenshot in the first place was that I indeed found it an interesting sight. :)

  9. Old Azshara... what a pain in the ass was. Not because it was almost empty, had few quests, etc... it was that damn crevasse in the middle, where nagas dwelt. If you had to cross the place from side to side (remember, no flying in the old days), it took you a big amount of time to go down there then find the way up, or go around the place and then swim to the destination spot. Places like Duke Hydraxxis isle, or the hidden gnome base were a real pain to reach.

  10. Agreed, the tone of finality in the questlines doesn't mesh with what actually happens. Seems like something that really should have been a simple fix in the writing.