Friday, October 1, 2010

The Cataclysm in my Bedroom

I spent all day yesterday in the Cataclysm beta!

Letting the Bartender Cheer Me Up
I got into the beta over a week ago, but I had a slow start, bogged down by the fact that I have become so accustomed to playing with assorted add-ons, most of which have not yet been ported to Cataclysm. I was totally helpless without Bartender. Where the heck did I put that spell, anyway? Click click click. Oops.

But after a few days of procrastination I finally installed Bartender, and created a new profile because apparently Bartender mostly works in Cata but only if you create new profiles. If you port existing profiles from an existing Live WoW install they will be broken.

I found the best way to replicate my old faithful Bartender profiles was to have Live WoW running on my laptop next to the keyboard and monitor for my gaming computer (running the beta), and try to visually replicate the position and size of all my usual action bars in Cata. It also helped to be able to go into the Bartender options on the laptop and see what values I'd been using for the various parameters.

Having my buttons back in all their usual places helped a lot, and now I'm starting to really get into Cataclysm.

Old World Changes
I already knew, from my first few tentative hours of exploration, how much I love being able to fly in the Old World - and how much I loathe the destruction of some of my favorite zones and towns, like the southern Barrens, Thousand Needles, and Auberdine, and the major (unpleasant) revisions to other areas, like the burned-out sections of Ashenvale and the invasion of Astranaar. I hate those stupid vortexes in the middle of Darkshire and Stranglethorn, too. Tacky. And disturbing.

But other changes are improvements. The expanded parts of Stormwind, for example, are gorgeous, and the city is absolutely stunning from the air. The beauty and realistic feel of this city is one of the most impressive accomplishments in the whole game, IMHO.

It's quite interesting, too, to see what's inside of the ruins of Lordearon, the city that the Undercity is, uh, under. Like Stormwind, Lordearon is a massive stone structure, but it's more squareish, rather Romanesque, very imposing and elegant. I think if it were renovated and populated this city would be quite appealing. I really wish they'd done this and used it instead of the dreadful stinky Undercity!

And while they were at it, why couldn't they have cleaned up the toxic green atmosphere in places like Felwood, Feralas, Eastern Plaguelands, and Un'garo Crater? They cut back on the forge smog in the Dwarven District of Stormwind, after all. <pout>

Moving on. Other areas are expanded - Brill, for example, is now a proper town, with its own flight point and trainers - and giant cemetary - and Light's Hope Chapel has been renovated, with a protective wall put up in front of the building. I rather miss the shabby old run-down previous version of the chapel, with its busted windows and rotting wood, but the new version is certainly prettier. These are just two examples; many other areas of the Old World have been built up.

Another excellent change is the new flight path between Rut'theron Village and the Exodar, making access to the wrecked space ship and its surroundings much more convenient. And by the way, it's really cool to be able to fly your own mount down the giant tree that is Teldrassil and then across the water to Darkshore!

Just a brief note on flying on your own mount in the Old World. I totally love it! Some parts of the world appear completely different when you can look down on them from above, and new stuff shows up which you had no idea was there. Even familiar things are fun to view with new, unfettered eyes.

Having the freedom to fly wherever you want, stop and look at things, then soar up and view the vast vistas and swoop down again somewhere else, is just amazing. The feeling I had when I first flew into Ashenvale, my favorite zone in terms of visual appeal, was indescribable.

And the world seems huge. Exploring it thoroughly from the air is going to take forever. I love this; for me, wandering around seeing new stuff - as well as things I haven't seen for a while - is the best part of the game.

Yesterday I poked around Orgrimmar for a while. It's really changed. The basic layout is still the same, but many (most?) of the major buildings have been replaced. The main area, the Valley of Strength, just inside the main entrance, where the bank and auction house were, is completely different. The old buildings and flight tower are gone, and they've built a new bank, new auction house and several other new buildings.

There is another bank and auction house over in the Valley of Honor, to the east, where the fishing, mining and blacksmithing trainers were. The blacksmithing trainer has been brought out of that back alley and is now next to the mining trainer's new location - and there is a jewelcrafting trainer there too, in the same building with the miners! Nice!

Also, conveniently, there is a solo banker and a solo auctioneer in a little niche up north in the Valley of Wisdom, west of the portal hub. These are great because they are close together - and right by a forge and anvil - whereas the bigger bank and auction house locations are spread out a bit and require a little bit of a hike to get from one to the other. This niche reminds me of the convenient area in Thunder Bluff where the bank, auctioneers, mining, and blacksmithing trainers are all quite close together.

The zeppelins now come to Orgrimmar at two new towers on the inside of the city, on a tall bluff between the Valley of Strength and the Valley of Wisdom. The riding/flying trainer is also on this bluff, as is the flight master. You get up and down between the bluff and the rest of the city via one of three elevators.

Other changes: the Drag has no roof and is now bright and cheery, and there is an entrance to the northeast that leads to Azshara, which is now the starting zone for the goblins, the new Horde race. The goblins' racial mount is a three-wheeled motorcycle, which I'm sure all you purists will hate. :)

I still don't like Orgrimmar that much; compared to the magnificent Stormwind, it is quite crude-looking and primitive. Stormwind is gorgeous, and I love being there. But there is a sense of energy and power at Orgrimmar that I find nowhere else.

These two cities are now going to be the central hubs even for level 85's. There are portals and NPC's in both cities that can teleport you to the new high-level zones once you have discovered those zones via quests.

I explored the new 80-82 leveling zone Vash'jir with a level 85 hunter that I copied from a pre-made toon supplied by Blizzard.

I didn't like Vash'jir at first; the way you get there is, um, a little traumatic, and you end up under water, operating out of the air bubble in a (leaking) upside down sunken ship, trying to do some quests before you drown. But after doing the initial couple of quests you get a spell that lets you breathe under water (only in the Vash'jir area) and things get better.

I struggled with the 85 hunter at first because the shots and spells available are different from what I am used to. Cata takes away some stuff I relied on and adds others. Fortunately my new Bartender install and profile enabled me to create a shot/spell button configuration more or less similar to what I'm used to.

Also the pet that came with the pre-made was a bat, and its wings kept getting in the way. It's bizarre to have it flapping its wings - complete with flapping sounds - while swimming around with you under water. Plus the only thing I had for it to eat was some really nice food buff that came with the pre-made toon and I didn't want to waste it by feeding it to the bat.

Floating around dodging seaweed and flapping wings while trying to kill eels and naga and evil little goblins and whatever while also trying to learn my new rotation was, er, interesting. I didn't die but the bat did croak once before I got a reasonable handle on things.

Once I did a few more quests and got an underwater mount (a seahorse!) I discovered a flight master that allowed me to fly back to the mainland. I went to Ironforge (this was a Night Elf pre-made), which is the closest city to Vash'jir, and bought some appropriate food.

Then I flew (yay!) a little ways over to the east to North Gate Pass, where I knew, from leveling one of my lower-level toons recently, there were some snow leopards. Tried to train one but a guard came over and killed it! Gad! Fortunately there were a couple more in the hills not far away, and in short order I had myself a new brilliant white kitty. Woo hoo!

BTW, high level hunters can now have five pets with them at all times, and twenty pets in the stable, which is awesome. And all the pets have the same combat characteristics; they only differ in the buffs they offer. Which means I can go back to playing big growly kitties instead of arf arf yelp yelp doggies.

And I'm going to go tame me some raptors! You remember that giant ravasaur in Ungaro Crater? Hee hee...

Here is an entertaining video on the entry into Vash'jir (spoiler warning!):

One of the things I liked about Vash'jir is that you can fly there from the mainland west of Ironforge. You get the fatigue bar shortly after leaving the coast but if you just keep flying you can make it with health to spare. Don't stop and hover, though, because the fatigue bar starts to move really fast when it gets below about 40%.

Paladin Changes
I did all my exploring of Orgrimmar with a premade level 85 Blood Elf paladin because my highest level Horde character, Rakaael, is only 51 and can't fly yet. I briefly played this character, trying a little combat. I must admit I am a little overwhelmed with all the new Paladin spells - and I really, really miss Taunt, which I used to use for pulling a mob out of a bunch, or just bringing one over to me so I didn't have to walk so far to kill it. LOL!

But the 85 paladin, like the 85 hunter, has so many spells that I was having to use the mouse cursor to hit some of them. I have to hit keys mainly with my left hand because it's such a long move from the mouse on the mattress to the right half of my keyboard, which dangles over me in bed (I'm disabled). This worked fine with the old hunter and paladin configurations, but the new spells and shots are so numerous that I have to play these toons like I play a warrior, using the mouse to hit butttons I can't easily reach with my left hand.

I'm not pleased with this, but hopefully I will eventually settle on a few choice shots and spells that will allow me to manage with (mostly, at least) a one-handed rotation as before.

Deepholm, Tol Barad, and Hyjal
While poking around Orgrimmar I stumbled on a quest that got me to Deepholm (which is under the Maelstrom in the middle of the ocean). I don't remember now exactly where I picked up this quest, but I'm sure we'll be able to find it. Once I had gone there, it opened up a portal in Org so I can easily go back again. Deepholm is rather strange and I didn't spend much time there, but I look forward to going back.

There is a dock outside of Orgrimmar now, home to a ship that leads to one of the new zones, but I haven't explored that yet. I did go briefly to Tol Barad, an island off of Gilneas (southeast of Silverpine Forest and the Undercity) which is the level 85 zone. This was pretty scary, given my ineptitude with the new spells, and my complete ignorance of which armor/weapons set (the 85 pre-made paladin came with four complete sets!) is appropriate for a Retribution pally.

I can't remember how I got to Tol Barad, either. I am going to have to try installing the MapNotes addon in Cata. Without it I'm hopeless. I am looking forward to when WoWWiki adds info on Cata travel and quests like this. Maybe I'll add some myself, now that I think of it.

I am also looking forward to exploring Hyjal, which is supposed to be really nice. This is also a level 77-82 leveling zone like Vash'jir, but reportedly gives somewhat less XP per quest. On the other hand, they say  some of the Vash'jir quests are bugged, while the ones in Hyjal are more stable.

There's a cute video on how to get an Alliance character to Hyjal (and also to Vash'jir) here:

This links to the low rez version of this video but if you have adequate bandwidth you might want to watch a higher rez.

I still haven't rolled a toon of either of the new races, so I have yet to experience the joys of the new races' starting zones. I did fly over the Trolls' new starting islands though, and they seemed nice.

Travel in Cata is going to be quite different. As you know, a level 60 will be able to fly almost anywhere - and in Northrend the minimum level is now 68! So even if I haven't reached 80 with Alaurai, my main, when Cata hits, she'll be able to fly there.

Note that I said almost. The exceptions are the Burning Crusade areas attached to the old world. We won't be able to fly in Silvermoon, Eversong Woods, or Ghostlands! Exodar and its associated Isles are also out. I think this is because they just haven't had time to redo these zones, and they don't want to hold up Cata for that. Anyway, these areas, having been done for BC, are better quality than the original vanilla zones, so they won't benefit as much from being reworked.

Of greater significance for leveling is that lower level toons will have many more flight points to use. Numerous flight points have been added to existing zones, such as - and this one is one I've wished for many times while leveling low-level Human and Night Elf toons in Elwynn Forest - at Goldshire. Other examples include three flight points in Westfall alone, and many more in zones such as Desolace, Ashenvale, Feralas, and Stonetalon. Getting around the old world is going to be much easier now.

Offsetting this, as you have probably heard, is the removal of the portals from Shattrath and Dalaran to the major cities. These cities will no longer be portal hubs. Dalaran will mainly be used by people who are leveling through Northrend, as Shattrath is now for Outland. They've added profession trainers to Dalaran to make leveling easier - and I hope they add an auction house! Otherwise everyone will have to have a banker alt or else run around begging mages for portals.

As I mentioned, there are new portal hubs in Orgrimmar and Stormwind, but these only go to the new high-level zones. As it stands now, if you want to travel from one continent to another you are going to have to take a ship or zeppelin, or pester a mage. Even for me, someone who loves travel and rarely hearthstones or uses portals, this is going to be a bit of an adjustment. The world just got a lot bigger!

The tradeoff is that the major lag most people have suffered in Dalaran should be gone. With Horde 85's spread out among three different auction/bank areas in Orgrimmar, and Alliance 85's using two (maybe three?) separate bank/auction areas in Stormwind, the lag problem should be greatly reduced. I hope!

I suppose I should mention problems I've come across. I've had quite a few, mainly in the form of game crashes. Usually the error is attempting to access invalid memory. These seem to happen more in some areas than others. Oddly, the worst places for these, for me anyway, seem to be Eastern Plaguelands and Tirisfal Glades; I crashed four or five times flying from the Undercity to Ghostlands. Southern Barrens is not too happy either. Flying at lower altitude may help; I'm not sure. But in many other areas I've had no problems at all.

One bug of note is in Azshara, where there is a dungeon that is misplaced above ground level in an area just north of Orgrimmar. You can't see it, but if you fly or ride into it, you can't get out. If you move, you can get blinded by what appear to be some of the textures in the dungeon but you can't see anything useful. I had to hearthstone to escape. But I'm sure this will be fixed soon.

Another issue is that you can only go through the portal between Eastern Plaguelands and Ghostlands one way, from north to south (from Ghostlands to the Plaguelands). There's a one-way invisible barrier that prevents you from going the other way on foot or in the air, unless you are riding on a flight master's mount. I don't know if this is a bug or intentional, but if it stays I believe it will prevent Alliance characters from getting to Ghostlands if they haven't already gone there and picked up the flight point in southeast Ghostlands.

I guess you could say I love it ... I hate it ... I don't know what to think.

I love love love being able to fly in the Old World, and I love some of the changes there, especially to Stormwind, my favorite city.

I very much dislike, however, the ruination of many of my most beloved areas. Mining in Thousand Needles was one of my most cherished pastimes, and I loved questing in the wide open, sunny, lush and cheerful Barrens. I also loved the sense of peaceful calm I got whenever I rode or flew into Astranaar. Sadly, all these delights and many more will be lost when the Cataclysm arrives.

Although I love the leveling of pet combat abilities and the fact that I can carry five pets with me now, the jury is still out for me on the other play changes I've encountered so far, particularly hunter and paladin combat rotations. I really enjoyed the simplicity of playing a Retribution paladin (at least up to level 29 so far) and I was quite content with playing my hunters as well. I hope I'll be able to get used to the new, more complicated rotas, but I'm not sure.

The changes to travel are a mixed bag. The removal of the portals to the major cities from Dalaran and Shattrath will force anyone who's been using them as portal hubs to change their way of thinking and of getting around the world. I suspect Dalaran is likely to become a ghost town, like Shattrath, Quel' Danas, Silvermoon, and the Exodar, and I'm sad about that.

But the new flight points scattered around the Old World will make travel while leveling much less tedious. And flying in the Old World will, of course, be a joy.

After living in the new world for a while, I'm looking forward to the Cataclysm with not quite so much dread as I was before. It's growing on me.


  1. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences in this new world. I now look forward even more to seeing the changes and additions! Play hard, work hard, and overcome!

  2. " Plus the only thing I had for it to eat was some really nice food buff that came with the pre-made toon and I didn't want to waste it by feeding it to the bat."

    Hehe, this made me laugh.

    Anyway it's nice to see different perspectives about the game, good work!