The ability to stream content while playing--a mixed bag.
(NOTE: I’m aiming to keep this post as spoiler-free as possible, so it won’t be hidden behind a cut. If I do put something up with spoilers, I’ll make sure I hide them for folks who don’t want to see them. I’m nice that way.)
First off–yes, I’m in the beta. In fact, I was actually in the Friends & Family alpha quite early on, back when we were under a strict NDA that meant we couldn’t even admit that the alpha existed. Some of those bugs you don’t see in the beta? Yeah. I reported those. When they actually existed in the alpha, I mean. Trust me, if you think some zones aren’t polished now, you should’ve seen them three months ago.
Anyway…I’m not going to dig too hugely deep into things here, partially to avoid spoilers and partially because I’ve still got to do some more digging with this latest beta build, especially in regard to class trees (which are still mutating with every patch). I plan to have some more warrior-specific info up here soon, once I can actually get to tank something instead of just grinding to level, and once I figure out what Lin’s fury offspec build should be. But in the meantime, here’s some general tidbits…
Launcher. With this latest beta build, Blizzard has revised how their launcher and downloader work. The theory is that now you’ll be able to stream downloaded content while you play the game. (This forced us in the beta to completely uninstall the beta client and download the whole bloody thing again, by the way.) The new way it works is this: When you go to the battle.net page to download WoW, you’ll download a small 2.5 MB launcher app. This, when run, downloads a 660 MB WoW installer that contains the core files for the game. Run and install that (which took me about an hour) and then, when you run WoW for the first time, you’ll get the familiar-looking downloader, which will begin pulling down a massive amount of data–15.7 GB for this build.
But here’s the trick. There’s a yellow line and a green line on the progress bar. In theory, once the progress bar hits that yellow line, you can play WoW. The “Play” button lights up and lets you run the game while the downloader disappears (you can’t alt-tab to it), but continues to pull the data. What Blizzard says is that you can run the game once the progress bar hits the yellow line (about 4% on mine), but “your game experience might not be optimum.” You may run into some delays or missing data. Once it hits the green line–about 60% for this beta install–again, in theory, your WoW experience should improve and be almost normal while the downloader concludes its work.
I tried it last night, and surprisingly, it does work. I was playing without any real latency issues while my wife and I both let our respective downloaders grind. There currently is an issue with frequent drops and “world server is down” messages, though, so it’s not all sunshine and roses. Nevertheless, the concept seems to work quite well. Even with the downloader at only 12-14% of the big file, the only glitches I ran into (besides getting dropped every 10 minutes) were a few missing or delayed sounds.
At first I wondered why they made this change. The old system worked OK most of the time. And this new system is still apparently peer-to-peer, so that didn’t change. Why add in the capability for background streaming? Well, one reason I can think of is, possibly, to make it easier to add in purchasable downloadable content? Y’know, go buy yourself a sparklepony and keep playing while it’s delivered to your mailbox. Or maybe more. Or maybe I’m paranoid.
New zones. I’ve only seen two zones so far, the first two that were opened, Vashj’ir and Mount Hyjal. Vashj’ir is an large underwater zone–actually, three separate ones–chock full of various sea life that thinks you’re tasty. In addition, there’s an overarching plot revolving around the naga, but honestly, I ran through it in alpha and several pieces were still missing so I’m not quite sure what that plot is. Mount Hyjal is, well, Mount Hyjal. It’s under siege by the Twilight’s Hammer and their various allies. There, you’ll assist Ysera and…uh, somebody else…to reclaim the portions of the mountain that the Twilights have already ravaged. And you’ll meet some old friends. I mean, old friends. Beta peeps probably can guess who I’m talking about. In addition, Deepholm is now open. I haven’t seen it yet except over my wife’s shoulder, but she couldn’t stop gushing about it and with good reason, it’s beautiful. The art and atmosphere is probably the best Blizzard’s ever done…it’s very otherworldly and weird. Considering it’s on the elemental plane of Earth, that makes sense.
As for the two new races, well, how much can I gush? I’ve gotten both a worgen and a goblin through their respective starter areas, and both are fantastic, yet totally different from each other. Worgens start in a Gilneas under siege, first by worgen and then by the Forsaken. The entire experience is best described as a “fighting withdrawal” against desperate odds, as the Gilneans fall back from one place to another to the next defending themselves the whole way. Gilneas City itself floored me the first time I saw it. LOTRO players will get this analogy–it looks a bit like a cloudy, more urban Bree-town. In a good way.
The goblin side is completely different. Blizzard took “teh funneh,” cranked it to 11, and ripped the knob off. Kezan, the goblin city, is hilarious. The goblin quests are replete with bad puns, funny names, bad puns, amusing situations, pop culture references, and more bad puns. And did I mention bad puns?
Old zones. This, to me, is the amazing part of Cataclysm. Not that Blizzard has created new and cool places like Vashj’ir or Hyjal or Deepholm. It’s what they’ve done to the old world, to zones where level 80s just don’t have any reason to go anymore. They have put an immense amount of effort into zones of all levels in Azeroth, and the result is a radically different leveling experience. The 80-85 run in Cataclysm is going to be cool, but you won’t get the full grasp of just how much has changed until you start rolling some alts of the vanilla races.
For example, I rolled a Tauren paladin in alpha. There were a lot of bugs, and some incomplete linking of quests between zones. But even so, getting the holycow from 1 to 35 totally derailed me from testing Vashj’ir or Hyjal on Linedan or Beltar. As incomplete as everything was (and Mulgore was still a work-in-progress at that point), the experience was amazingly engrossing. Blizzard has put a hell of a lot of work into cleaning up the leveling-questing process. There are now more quest hubs spread out in lowbie zones, with some old quests moved to the new hubs, closer to their objectives. This means less time wasted running back and forth. In the northern half of the Barrens, for example, there used to be Crossroads and Ratchet. In addition to those now, there are a couple of other quest hubs. One is a goblin post up near the Boulder Lode Mine and Sludge Pit in the northeastern part of the zone. The old Venture Company quests involving those areas have been moved to the new hub, so you’re not running back and forth to Crossroads or Ratchet constantly. It speeds the process up and makes it feel less tedious.
But even over and above that is the storytelling. And nowhere did Blizzard hit a peak with that more than in Ashenvale and Stonetalon, from what I’ve seen. The Alliance and Horde are now more in conflict than ever. Much, maybe most, of the Kalimdor Horde leveling experience between, say, levels 18 and 34 (Ashenvale, Stonetalon, Southern Barrens) is going to be wrapped up in this war. The quests themselves aren’t PvP, but you’ll spend a lot of time killing NPC elves and dwarves and humans and gnomes if you’re Horde. The quests flow, logically, from one to the next, and from one place to the next. And they tell an overarching story of the Horde side of the new war…one in which, surprisingly, Garrosh Hellscream does not necessarily come off as the king-hell douchebag we’ve known him as before. And as a Tauren fanboy? Southern Barrens hits me particularly hard. You’ll see why if you fly over it.
Prot warrior mechanics. I’ll have some more details up on this later. Right now, things are still somewhat in flux, that much is plain. Talent trees are still getting adjusted with every patch. But what I’m seeing, from a level/grind standpoint, is a slight walkback from the bountiful joy we got in Wrath of the Lich King. WotLK turned Prot warriors from laughingstocks at leveling into sexy grinding machines. We had enough DPS to kill mobs at reasonable speed crossed with the survivability that we all love about the class…and when we got bored with questing, we could jump in the dungeon queue and tank ourselves silly. It became, well, easy to level as Prot.
I don’t know if 80-85 will be quite so easy. DPS output seems flat or down from live, and this, combined with level 80 mobs in the new zones having around thirty thousand health, makes grinding a bit slow compared to Northrend. Couple that with some odd stat changes…right now, Linedan in his T9 prot gear (from back in May when I copied him over) has a crit chance of 0.48%. A half a percent at level 82, Blizz, seriously? That 145 hit rating only gets him +2.1% hit at level 82 as opposed to double that at level 80? Please tell me this stuff will be adjusted.
I haven’t had a chance to tank yet, but the rumblings I’ve been hearing are mixed. Tank threat in the late alpha (for all classes) was supposed to be very bad. It may have come up a bit in the last few beta builds, but still seems to be considerably lower than live. If I can ever get a chance to tank one of the new instances, I’ll pass on my experiences.
In closing, I’m pretty excited about Cataclysm. I haven’t been too terribly caught up in mechanics and numbers so far…I’ve let myself get lost in the beauty of the new zones, and been astonished at the level of effort Blizzard has put in to reshape the entirety of Azeroth, and the confidence with which they’re flexing their storytelling muscles. Now that we’re further along into a solid beta, it’s time to start looking at the nuts and bolts more. But even with the glitches and the concerns? It’s pretty obvious that once again, Blizzard is in the process of hitting yet another home run.