Peter: Ian and I finally got to quest together when we met up in Westfall. First I had to figure out how to manage the boats which journey into and out of Stormwind, and then I had to find my way through the city itself. Stormwind is pretty sweet, and I’d never really seen it except for once many years ago when I raided it with some other Horde players. At that time, I mostly just remember a mad rush into the place and then pure chaos. This time I got to look around.

When I got to the border of Westfall I met up with my new companion Boggins. He was very grey. Then things got weird. I had to talk to “transients” who were loitering around in someone else’s farmland. Unless I gave them money, they beat me up. I gave in and handed over the copper so they would play nice, but wondered if I was in some sort of simulation designed to train future neighborhood watchmen.

Things continued to become more and more uncomfortable. I was spared a lot of the details because I don’t read my quest text, so I’m sure Ian can tell you more, but I’m pretty sure I ended the zone by fighting against a socialist cell of anti-war protestors.

Occupy Westfall

Oh, I also got to take part in my first vehicle quest. I’m not a huge fan of Blizzard’s vehicle quests, but this one was particularly bad. I jumped inside of a mechanical scarecrow of some sort and pushed two buttons while I killed other mechanical scarecrows. Maybe I should have read the storyline.

Gameplay-wise I learned two things in Westfall. First, druids are basically unkillable; any time I was even remotely low on health I just popped out of kitty form and hotted myself. I could do this while facing four or more mobs and just run away while hotting if I absolutely had to. I still haven’t even come close to dying.

Secondly, Boggins is way more of a hero than Mathenwulf. It’s probably because I specced restoration, but I can’t even come close to matching his killing speed. However, despite this, Ian seems a little gun-shy sometimes. I got to the point where I was just dot-pulling a whole region full of enemies and training them into Boggins. Ian would, inevitably, yelp a little over voice-chat, as though he were a bit afraid and moderately pissed, but I would heal him and he’d slaughter everything. I guess that experience in his first zone really stuck with him, when he died alone, ignominiously in a field, a single button to mash as his only friend.

 

Ian: If I was ever skittish, it was because Boggins didn’t get his first area of effect ability until level 20. Bringing twenty mobs over to a tank who can’t do anything more than tab target and hit is annoying and aggravating, not least because Peter tended to begin squealing whenever more than three were hitting him. Which, fair play to him, is supposed to be the point of a tank in the first place.

Westfall was due to carry us to level 15 and, at first blush, seems pretty straightforward. As soon as you cross the border from Elwynn to Westfall, you’re thrust into a murder mystery. This is mostly in keeping with Westfall’s story pre-Cataclysm; it’s Stormwind’s bread basket after a fantasy version of the Dust Bowl years, suddenly bereft of food and hope, preyed upon by bandits and thieves. At least it seems that way.

The problem is that there’s some weird class stuff going on here which, yes, it’s “just” a video game and, no, it didn’t ruin my experience or offend me. But it was strange and it’s apparent immediately after you leave the path to go investigate the murder. You’re sent to question people who might have seen something and the mobs you interact with to this end are called “Transients”. Lots of transients. And beggars. You have two dialogue options. If you just ask, the transient freaks out and attacks you. If you give him 2 copper pieces, he gives you a clue and you’re on your way.

No loyalty in Westfall to the Crown, apparently, unless it’s to the Crown’s money.

But what keeps coming up is that there’s scant reason for any of the lower classes in Westfall to be loyal to Stormwind and this is in stark contrast to the pre-Cataclysm storyline. Pre-Cataclysm, this group of jerk rebels called the Defias Brotherhood were robbing and beating everyone, with an overwhelmed, heroic militia tried to protect the people of Westfall. It was pretty unambiguous who the bad guys were.

In the new Westfall, though, you find out that Stormwind basically abandoned the area when things got bad, only recently having moved back in to reestablish its authority. They post signs saying “No more transients” (it’s strange that they keep using the word transient over and over) and starving people are everywhere. So the kingdom leaves these people to their own devices, they manage (barely) to keep it together, and then the kingdom comes back in when the danger is over and is all, “hey, yeah, about that leaving thing, we’re here and in charge again”.

The Defias are back, but this time they’re organizing a quasi-democratic socialist uprising against Stormwind. And, my god, I can’t blame them. Because the Cataclysm (the event, in this case, not the expansion) ripped a gigantic hole in the middle of the last working farm in Westfall and the Stormwind authorities are completely unable to handle anything. Heck, what little power Stormwind can project seems to be aimed at least as much at keeping poor people out of Sentinel Hill (the main town) as it is at gnolls and bandits.

It was good leveling, I guess. Much better than Elwynn, certainly, and my warrior powers were only growing as I picked up better gear and more abilities. And I don’t read the quests; nobody reads the quests. Blizzard doesn’t really read the quests; I remember reading years ago that their quest writers have a set limit of 300 words or something like that to convey the micro-story they’re dealing with at a given time, the idea being that WoW shows the story rather than tells it. Maybe I missed something huge in my osmosis questing. All I know is that I felt like a jerk for the most part while I was in Westfall and not in the morally ambiguous, the world is shades of grey sort of way.

 

Peter: As I think about it, I suppose we shouldn’t have been all that surprised by the socio-political implications of WoW questing.  We are, after all, playing a game in which I make myself stronger by killing people and taking their jewelry.

However, I couldn’t help but think back to the orc starting quests. In one of those, you have to take a stick from an NPC and beat up lazy orcs who are sleeping instead of working. That makes me pretty uncomfortable too. Apparently, WoW players are trapped between two rather unpleasant options. On the one hand, you can join the Totalitarian Alliance, where questioning authority is frowned upon, and society only has room for good farmers and soldiers. On the other, you can choose instead the Radical-Libertarian Horde, where only the strong can survive, and you repeatedly have to deal with the disastrous effects of shoddy public transit zeppelins.

Anyway, I put most of this out of my head since we were getting close to our first dungeon. I was pretty excited to throw around some heals and actually use my spec. Ian and I ventured into the Deadmines together, ready to liberate some jewelry.

 

Ian: I still can’t get over the fact that we broke up a socialist revolutionary meeting. The effect in voice chat was something like this:

But, like Peter said, we’re basically leveling up through theft anyway (the kobolds in this game even explicitly tell you how upset they are that you’re taking their candles) so there’s scant reason to complain. I can’t wait for the torture quests, though; rejogging our memories of those quests, in all their cattle prod, CIA black site glory, should be fun.

For now, it was on to the first dungeon, The Deadmines. Kudos to Blizzard: the storyline of Westfall and its resident dungeon were neatly presented and very much intertwined. It all cohered nicely on the way in. But we did run into a problem with the dungeon. While not really something new players now have to do, we decided to recapture a bit of the magic of our first days by instituting a new rule:

  • No queuing for a dungeon unless we are at the entrance to said dungeon.

Back in Ye Olden Dayes, you damned well had to run to dungeons to run them with your group. Sometimes really, really far. Getting set up for dungeons was an event in itself and, while I don’t really miss the sometimes annoying process of putting a group together, I miss the sense of scale walking to dungeons offered. The world got noticeably smaller once the looking for group tool was added. We’re bringing that back, at least in Los Cheevos Hermanos.

Deadmines is pretty decent as an intro. They revamped it with the release of Cataclysm to flow better and provide more interesting boss mechanics. It’s not precisely challenging if you have any idea of what you’re doing but it provides a good intro to group class mechanics.

Of course, I am here to complain and I’m going to. Blizzard’s insistence on thrusting tanks into their first group scale tanking situations without providing a single area of effect ability is ludicrous. Now, I’ve been playing this game for ohmygodit’sbeentenyears. I know how to handle threat from gribblies fairly well without AoE tools. Peter’s a pretty good healer, too, so he could use his abilities to keep people up when my fingers weren’t fast enough. And Blizzard made sure the enemies in the first dungeons don’t hit very hard.

But if you want to scare off prospective tanks (and not enough tanks/healers has long been a problem for them, as it is in most MMOs), my god, put them in a game where everyone wants entire rooms pulled and don’t give them any tools to handle it. I can’t imagine the brutality of being a truly new player with the expectations the bulk of the playerbase has, coupled with the lack of AoE threat tools. Just move Thunderclap (or whatever it is for the other tanks) to level 15, Blizzard. It’s not going to hurt anything.

But Deadmines went pretty well and easily, with some neat boss mechanics only let down by how few you get to see with everyone doing so much damage. It was also let down a bit by the fact that Peter and I had a quest which required a good two to three minute flashback cinematic, prompting cries of “WTF WHY SO LONG” from the assembled DPS classes; one even left. But whatever. They have the 15 minute random dungeon queues, not us.

It was about this time that Jill decided to play. She saw that we were sticking with it! She rolled a paladin, got to level ten, and promptly lost interest. So she’s a quitter and it should be set down here, for all to see, that she’s a quitter. Jill: you are a quitter.

Once we wrapped up Westfall, I voted to move on to Wetlands, which was a zone which had been heavily altered with the Cataclysm expansion. Peter, though, wanted to go to neighboring Darkshire. Darkshire was my favorite Alliance zone back in the old days and, even though it hadn’t been altered much, I was completely fine with a replay. So we prepared to hike to the spooky woods once we had Westfall finished, to fight ghouls and goblins and, to Peter’s surprise but not mine, an awful lot of Mathenwulf’s worgen relatives.

But first we had a long detour north to take. A dungeon was calling and our new rule meant that it was time to hoof it.