AZEROTH DEBRIEFING 04 – HUMANS AND OTHER MONSTERS
Truth to tell, I didn’t play in the alpha as much as a lot of other people did. Once I got out of the starting areas, I had a much tougher time of doing quests and the like, which was how you advanced your character. I’d get through the content and not be at quite an appropriate level to move onto the next area because I wasn’t doing enough running of dungeons or whatever, mostly because I don’t think the leveling curve had been quite worked out.
This is a not uncommon problem. If you’re running in a group, you can gloss over a lot of these issues. Hell, even if you just have a second player, there’s almost nothing that you can’t do, at least out in the questing areas and the majority of the world (unless you’re severely under-level, facing 15th level monsters when you’re just 10th, for instance.) I, however, didn’t always have a large pool of people to quest with, or was antisocial or just didn’t know what I was doing, so I struggled through content I probably shouldn’t have been doing on my own. Which in turn really diminished my appetite for the game.
I mean, if you’re struggling, it’s not fun, right? And part of this was due to the fact that the game wasn’t complete yet. A lot of the powers and abilities that the characters have at their disposal now simply weren’t in the game. And as I’ve mentioned before, once you’ve done the exploration part of the game, if you’re not powering ahead in leveling, there’s not a lot to do. I hadn’t yet mastered a lot of the online social dynamics at play. So I drifted in and out of the game. This got exacerbated when there were patches to the software that broke the game and made it nearly unplayable.
Still, there were some moments of the alpha that stuck out. Running the Deadmines (which was the only other instance available at the start), which was a gigantic, sprawling dungeon populated by mercenary goblins and their ramshackle technology, all in the service of the Defias Brotherhood (based side-handedly on the Masons) and their own armies of thieves and thugs. All this leads down to a massive underground grotto, floating in which is a titanic, full-scale battleship populated by pirates and the leader of the Defias Brotherhood, the dreaded Pirate van Cleef. Really, another stellar dungeon that has variety that makes sense and didn’t feel arbitrarily cobbled together.
I did spend some time in the dwarven lands, when those opened up, but frankly, I never cared for the stunty little guys. And to this day, I think they’re one of the most under-represented races even to this day, primarily because they’re not all that physically attractive as females, and the males don’t look all that powerful, even though they’re squat and sturdy. People don’t immerse themselves in a fantasy world to be unattractive (unless unattractiveness is the primary draw for the characters, as in the case of the Forsaken, for instance, whose rotting flesh and exposed joints hold their own charms. And nobody can argue that the most popular races to play are the “pretty” ones, largely of elvish derivation. At one time on my old server (Silver Hand), the Night Elf population (who were one of four Alliance races) outnumbered the entire Horde population on their own. Blizzard’s solution to this conundrum (massive population imbalances) was to introduce a pretty Horde race of Blood Elves.
In terms of dwarves, the icy and flavorless starting zones didn’t endear them to me much either. Their capital city of Ironforge (lately joined to Stormwind by way of an underground railroad) was dark and daunting and joyless, as opposed to the grandeur and wide squares of Stormwind. Smoky and closed, it always felt more like a tomb to a dying culture than as a vibrant hub of activity.
I stopped playing for a bit until they opened up one of the Horde races for play, the first of which being the Forsaken, the undead, recently freed from the control of the Lich King. I’ve written about the Forsaken in WoW lore before, and they’ve always been my favorite race to play. They still retain some of their surface humanity, but will never be accepted by the Alliance due to the disease that afflicts them. They’re also paradoxical because their queen is an elf (whereas the Forsaken themselves are all clearly ex-humans), and even in death, they seem to fiercely embrace living. Log into a male Undead character and just type /dance to see what I mean.
Of course, I was an idiot and created a mage as my first Forsaken character. Mages don’t wear armor, can’t hit anything very hard with a weapon, but they can cast a variety of destructive spells, all fueled by a psychic resource called mana. The problem with mages is once their mana runs out, they’re not good for anything. At all. With mana, they can be powerful (as long as they have someone to hide behind). But if they’re by themselves, they have to work extra hard to do just about anything, particularly at lower levels. This makes things very not fun. And again, why should I log in if I’m not having fun?
It’s a question I come back to from time to time.
The Forsaken inhabit the former human kingdom of Lordaeron, only they’ve turned the abandoned capital into an Undercity, accessable by elevator (or unguarded back door, which I don’t think ANY Alliance city has), ringed by a moat of faintly glowing green guck, architecture dominated by spires and arches and ziggurats. And they always felt like the odd man out in the Horde, as the other races: Orcs, Trolls and Tauren all take great pains to emphasize their shamanistic traditions and (mostly) refusing to partake in the dark magic which the Forsaken seem to gravitate towards. And, frankly, when the races for the Horde were announced, I scratched my head at the inclusion of the Forsaken (even feeling that they were completely out of character for inclusion).
And yet, the Forsaken became my favorite race to play in the time of the alpha, and even to just a couple weeks ago when I was still actively playing. Odd how you can get attached to a backstory and cosmetics. I still wished that they’d allowed Undead to become Paladins. Seems unfair that they can’t because of the whole unfortunate “infected with a Scourge plague and becoming mindless slaves of a dark master forever staining their collective soul” thing.
I mean, come on, forgive and forget, right?
I spent a lot of time dying to wolves in Silverpine Forest. To them and to the Sons of Arugal (gigantic wandering werewolves that take five strong characters to bring down – if you’re by yourself, you better have a good way to escape or you’re going to be lycanthrope chow.) One of the designers I talked to really enjoyed the feeling of fear that these near-unstoppable monsters inspired. They could be behind any tree (you had to remember where they patrolled, else you became lunched) or rock.
And as a high-level character, I took great joy in going back to Silverpine and killing these bastards in one or two hits. I still do it from time to time, extracting payback that these mindless automata have all but forgotten. Not me, though. I hate those hairy jerks. I’ll always hate them.
Once you finished with Silverpine, you got to do the death run to Tarren Mill. It was a death run because the developers hadn’t quite fixed the aggro radius on the monsters lingering by the road there. What’s an aggro radius? Glad you asked.
Monsters by themselves are passive, generally patrolling an area and minding their own business. Some monsters interact with small animals in the area (called critters), eating them and giving the illusion of an ecosystem in action. Monsters eat critters, but players eat monsters. Now, if a character gets close enough, the monster will “go aggro” on the offending character, hence the term aggro radius. The lower level you are in comparison to the monster, the higher the aggro radius. The higher level, the lower (but it never entirely disappears, so a 15th level monster will pick a very short fight with an 80th level character).
The bears and cougars and spiders that were close to the road between Silverpine and Tarren Mill, well, they had…problems with their aggro radius. That and their patrol paths were poorly defined, so that they actually crossed the road, making it impossible for characters to run from one point to the other without attracting a lot of undesired attention. It was safest to travel in packs. Sometimes it was so bad that people would deliberately die close to the start, and then pop up as a ghost in a graveyard, run through to the other side and resurrect at the Tarren Mill graveyard. This would actually cost money and time (the resurrection would leave you weakened for ten minutes, mobile but basically helpless). It would have these costs, but often be less frustrating than trying to do it on your own.
I didn’t do all that much once I hit Tarren Mill. Again, a mix of frustration with the character class and game mechanics kept me out of things for awhile.