Strange New Retail World

This week the Shadowlands pre-patch dropped for retail WoW, and my feed of WoW blogs is full of people complaining that it's a "nothing patch" for them. Of course, for people who don't own the current expansion it's an exciting time because it means that BfA is now accessible to all subscribers without an extra purchase, and without all the grindy crap to boot.

As I mentioned back in July, I was quite interested in the new starting zone and general changes to the levelling experience. It's not the sort of thing for which I would resubscribe, but since it basically comes "free with Classic" for me I thought that I might as well have a look.

I started by rolling up a Draenei shaman on Azuremyst Isle and revelling in the general confusion of someone who hasn't played retail since Mists of Pandaria. For example the intro cinematic had been updated to narrate about the Draenei's current status post-Legion (I think?) but the quests were still the same old "we just crash-landed here". I also kept looking at my mana bar, daring it to move when I used abilities, but it seemed impossible to make it budge in any meaningful way. There was a first aid trainer that only had tailoring recipes on offer since first aid doesn't exist anymore as far as I can tell. And so on.

By the time I reached Azure Watch, I was level 7 just like in the good old days, but considering that the level cap has now been squished to 50, this seemed kind of unsettling. It doesn't feel like Blizzard really tuned the XP gains in the old zones much at all. I wonder if you still end up being level 20+ by the time you finish Bloodmyst Isle?

I didn't get to find out, because by that time my husband had reinstalled WoW and we were off to our scheduled duo levelling adventure - eventually. The first few days after the patch the EU servers were plagued by login issues (my Classic guild had to cancel its Wednesday raid night since half the guild couldn't even log in), but eventually we managed to roll up a pair of humans on Exile's Reach. He made a warrior because he always defaults to tanky classes, and I made a monk because I'd never played one and this seemed like the best setup to avoid feeling like the class I was playing was all wrong (compared to how I remembered it).

I originally thought that I was going to make a whole post about Exile's Reach, but to be honest I don't have that much to say about it. From what I can tell, happy retail players seemed to praise it for being more in line with the way questing works in the modern game, while salty Classic players considered it a somewhat dumbed down/childish experience. From what I can tell, they are both right? It's a fun little romp that gets you to level 10 quite quickly, but it's also very "generic tutorial level" if you get my drift, and the writing is super on the nose, seemingly assuming that WoW players are unable to pay attention to or retain anything for more than five minutes. (Take a shot every time the Garricks reference their familial relationship for example, just in case the player already forgot again that they are mother and son.)

We had originally planned to level the rest of the way by revisiting Wrath of the Lich King, but the new starter experience segues so smoothly into the BfA intro that we just rolled with it, as it was new content for both of us anyway. (The husband actually played through the BfA story at launch, but only on Horde side.)

The start felt like quite a long stretch of just passively watching cut scenes and listening to NPCs talk, which made us a little stir-crazy, but ever since we've been set loose to make our own fun it's been an enjoyable enough experience. They really weren't kidding about the increased levelling speed though - after about 8 hours of casual play, our duo is already level 26. At this rate we might even hit the new level cap of 50 before the weekend is over! We'll see what happens then.


  1. I just posted my "review" of Exile's Reach, in which the word "generic" features several times. I didn't hate it. It's functional. The really weird thing is, it could be any one of a dozen eastern imports I've played over the last few years. It feels like a translation, somehow, not just of the dialog but the very concepts.

    That's particularly ironic comig off the back of Genshen impact, which *is* a translated Chinese import and which has a generic fantasy storyline, and yet still manages to feel fresh, exciting and zingy.

    I think Blizzard as a company feels tired these days. No-one keeps the standard up forever and they've been at it a long time now. It's beginning to show. More than beginning.

    1. I also think that a lot of the real creativity has been squeezed out of Blizzard by the homogenization and monetization that Activision has been pushing on Blizzard.

  2. Yeah, Exile's Reach is pretty streamlined, but I think that's a good thing given the age of WoW and the desire to retain new / returning players. I do find it amusing that Classic players look down on it given how easy Classic is compared to retail WoW (or Everquest is). Classic can be tedious, but it isn't hard. ;)

    Definitely leveling moves fast. Blizzard wants folks to be at max level pretty quickly. Given that's their main focus I can see them wanting to get people there in a rush.

    1. I don't think the disdain from the Classic people was about difficulty, but about things like how tutorial-like many of the quests are, and how the story and characters are very generic and clich├ęd.

    2. At this point in the life of WoW I think a tutorial-like starting experience is what the game needs. I'm sure almost all MMO gamers have tried WoW one time or another. To attract new gamers they need to have a tutorial. Classic players forget that folks don't have years or decades experience with WASD. I mean, my wife who spends as much time on her games as I do mine is put off by having to learn to use WASD and the other mechanics that are so common with MMOs and other PC games. If Blizzard could somehow tap that market which plays mobile or browser games that would be a major win for them. (I don't think Exile's Reach is that win for them, but at least they made an attempt.)

      As far generic and cliched goes, that's pretty much all of Stormwind and the human zones in WoW. Especially in Classic. There's a bit of pot = kettle == black. ^_^

    3. I didn't have years of experience with WASD when I started playing Vanilla and it still captivated me! I just read the manual before first logging in. This train of thought kind of makes me miss gaming manuals...

      And I think you're doing the Classic human zones an injustice. They used many common fantasy tropes, but they also did their own thing. The Defias, murlocs and "You no take candle" didn't become iconic for nothing. Can you really picture Exile's Reach leaving as much of an impression on new players?

    4. Yeah, printed manuals, trinkets, cloth maps. :) I love those and I still have a bunch of old Apple ][ games with them.

      I find the Defias pretty generic as a 'common folk betrayed by the ruling class'. I think I have more fondness for Mr Smite than I do the rest of the Defias. Though Pillagers with their fireballs make me want to slaughter them all. ^_^ Also, you really only start to see the Defias in depth when you get to Westfall, which isn't necessarily a 1 to 10 starter area.

      It's hard to say about Murlocs since Blizzard made them the Wow mascot and uses their image everywhere. (New players have a murloc head as an icon if you're a Guide.) They might not be iconic without that help from Blizzard.

      Kobolds and their candles are a well known phrase, but I've seldom heard it used in game or actual voice chat. I'm much more likely to hear a comment about Leeroy Jenkins.

      I do agree that Exile's Reach won't leave that much of an impression as a zone on new players. But then, I think it is more a tutorial than a typical Wow racial starter zone. Exile's Reach is more: we'll gently teach you how to play and get you going with the rest of Wow. The other areas are more: here's the world, you figure it out. (I also think if Blizzard makes any more new starter zones, Exile's Reach will be the pattern going forward. The old zones will end up slowly rotting away -- the Worgen starting zone currently being a buggy mess, for example.)

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