23 October 2008

I hate Kalimdor

I do love me my achievements. I've been slowly working to get a lot of the exploration achievements and Hallow's end achievements. Yesterday that led me to Kalimdor, to work on both Explore Kalimdor and Tricks and Treats of Kalimdor.

And Kalimdor is a pain in the butt! I had to spend a lot of time on the Draenei lands of Azuremyst Isle and Bloodmist Isle. That's not surprising, since they're starter zones that a night elf typically doesn't see. But the little, isolated corners of places like Stonetalon Mountains and Azshara really drive me nuts. These zones are really spread out and require a lot of riding to get through.

There's nothing wrong with big zones. I like the sense of space, and I'm OK with requiring travel time to get from place A to place B. But there's a point when it becomes tedious. Compare Kalimdor to the Outland zones. Most of the Outland areas are significantly larger — I would guess 25-50% larger in area. The difference is that Outlands zones tend to be rounder rather than strung out. This means that different corners of the zones are closer to each other.

Consider Azshara0. I had to track down two sub-zones: Jagged Reef (52,10) and the Tower of Eldara (89,33). The Tower is the worst; it's at the very eastern tip of the upper peninsula of Azshara. That's a long ride in itself from the flight point in the southwest corner of the zone. But also you have canyons and mountains in the way, so you have to ride a long circuitous route to get there. I'm sure it was a 10- or 15-minute trip. Once I got there, I faced a long ride back; instead I teleported to Moonglade and took a gryphon ride to my next destination.

The gryphon taxis are another example of the changes in Outland. There are more flight points per zone in Outlands than in old Azeroth, and they're better positioned. Kalimdor in particular tends to have these long stringy zones with flight points in one corner. To Blizzard's credit, they have been adding more flight points to places like Stranglethorn, Felwood, and Dustwallow. The new Zul'Aman flight point saved me huge hassles when I had to explore the Ghostlands.

The flights in Outlands take less time, too. I'm not surprised that something like Moonglade to Tanaris takes 15 or 20 minutes. But even something like Moonglade to Ashenvale takes 6 minutes or so. Going from memory, even the longest flight in Outlands takes less than 10 minutes.

I understand the reasoning. Lately I've been interested to see how Blizzard tries to manage the rhythm of play in WoW. It's a balance between periods of relaxed, less-intense play, serious focus, and balls-to-the-wall excitement. That pumping cycle drives a lot of the enjoyment of the game, and they pay serious attention to it.

Travel is one of those rhythm tools. A taxi flight is a serious downtime — the most you can do is browse quests or achievements, swap some gear, or chat with friends. (You can also do a good bit of web browsing, of course!) Overland travel is more focused, because you have to watch where you're going to avoid mobs and cliffs and the like. In a higher-level zone it can be fairly intense; I have fond memories of early quests that require a trip to Darkshire. Those woods were creepy and scary at level 18! Outlands flight is somewhere in between. You have to pay some attention, or you'll miss your destination, fly off the edge of the map, or maybe fly over an opposing-faction town. I still remember flying to the Throne of Elements in Nagrand, getting shot down over Garadar, and crashing into Skysong Lake.

I think what Blizzard has realized is that they just overestimated the optimum downtime when they first designed Azeroth. The biggest reason is that you still do a lot of travel at level 70 or 80. (How many of us Alliance made the long ride to Scarlet Monastery in the last few days?) The travel is a good feeling when you're first seeing the zone, but that one time must be balanced against the dozens of times you'll travel the same route later on.

This reevaluation shows up in a lot of ways: The new flight paths added to old Azeroth. Adding free-flight capabilities for Outlands and Northrend. The design of Outlands zones and flight paths. Changing your first mount from level 40 to 30. All this makes travel less time-consuming and more convenient. It's another example of how they adjust their approach as the game evolves. Despite what you might read on the forums, they're actually pretty good at this and it's a major factor behind their success.

Now, if they can just fix Thousand Needles before I go explore it, that would be great!

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