More Than a Mercenary: Questing in Cataclysm Beta

Since I came out so lukewarm on the moonkin changes in my previous post, I wanted to write about something about which I have no complaints: the questing redesign.

To be fair, I had no serious qualms about questing before. In fact, I’ve always kind of preferred questing to dungeon running. I’m an efficient quester, I enjoy getting into the groove and soloing, and I especially love the exploration, discovery, and the stories in the game.

I think the fact that I like questing only  made the redesign that much more awesome to me. It’s like having a reservation in your favorite hotel and then getting unexpectedly upgraded to a suite to boot.

***Spoiler alert! I try not to give away too much, but if you’re shielding yourself from all Cataclysm quests and story information, this is NOT the post for you!***

The reasons I like it:

The quest paths fit the way I quest. Someone over at Blizzard has been watching over my shoulder, and I’m sure a lot of yours, as well. When I quest, I hit a hub and gather all the quests available, reading them as I go. When I have them all, I look at both the story progression and the way the quests are grouped on the map, and then I plot out what seems like the most logical, efficient questing path. Although all of us might do it slightly differently (my husband and I do, it’s why we don’t quest together), most efficient questers have this in common.

Cataclysm questing, or at least what I’ve experienced of it so far, is designed exactly for that.

Step-by-step questing through a zone:

  1. Arrive at the central hub (often following a “breadcrumb quest”) and pick up a few quests. These quests usually lead to secondary hubs and generally the order in which you do them doesn’t matter.
  2. Follow quest to secondary hub, where you’ll pick up two or three quests that all have objectives in the same location. Lovely. Complete those quests and return them, and pick up the next in the chain, all of which will send you to the same location again. Rinse & repeat until you’ve cleared the secondary hub.
  3. Now you’ll either return to the central hub or move on to another secondary hub, and you’ll continue this way throughout the zone. There’s generally a main story in the zone that you follow through the quests.
  4. When you’ve completed a zone, there’s no question you’re done there. You end with a big finale quest that’s really exciting before getting sent somewhere else.

You want me to escort who?! Through WHAT?!

Interesting quest mechanics and elements keep it fresh. They’ve fully utilized vehicles and phasing and cutscenes, and it makes for a fun questing experience. I’m questing in Uldum right now, and it almost has a console RPG feel–do some quests, watch a cutscene, do some more quests, watch another cutscene. Although vehicle mechanics are broken right now (it is beta), the ones I’ve done are a blast. Remember the first time you sat on Etymidian’s back? Or the very first time you climbed into an Ulduar Demolisher? It’s that good and better. There’s also some quests that make use of boss-like strategies (a particular one in Deepholm stands out to me) and require you to be fast on your feet and to pay attention, a great thing to keep you engaged in the story.

All of these help to break up the monotony of the not-so-exciting quests. Killing 15 Twilight’s Hammer cultists doesn’t seem so bad when you’ve just spent 5 minutes weakening Baron Geddon or playing a life-or-death game of Truth.

What you do matters. We’re all familiar with the “Go kill 15 pigs because they stink” type of quests. No story attachment, no real motivation, just–this guy wants these pigs dead so we’re going to kill them. A base mercenary at best, a mindless tool at worst.

In Cataclysm so far, the story lines are super clear and easy to follow. Each zone has a common thread, and the quests lead you along that thread.

The best metaphor I have is this: each zone is a storybook and you are the main character. They’re built from the ground up just like you learned in grade school. Granted, there are a lot of subtle and intricate parts, but the baseline components are there:

Introduction: You arrive in the zone, often because you were sent. You usually walk into some chaotic situation, and you are briefed on the situation as it has existed before your arrival. There’s a term usually used in literary references for this type of storytelling: in medias res. It’s Latin for “in the middle of things.” That’s exactly how your story starts–you’re thrown right into the middle of things.

In Medias Res

Characters: In addition to you–and yes, you are very much a character in this story; things in the story and in the zone change as you quest through them, affecting the outcome–there are generally a few characters who you encounter frequently through the course of the questing. For instance, you’ll visit Ysera several times while questing through Hyjal, and you’ll meet a young tol’vir prince in Uldum (you might also see a few other familiar faces). There are characters to like, to be annoyed with, to make fun of, and to hate; there are good guys and villians and quirky gnomes and crazy explorers and lots of people with things that fly and explode (awesome, right?).

Conflict: There is a primary focus in each zone. In Hyjal, you’re trying to restore shrines in order to enlist the help of the gods in fighting back the Twilight’s Hammer. In Deepholm, you’re trying to help fix the rift that has formed as a result of Deathwing’s emergence into Azeroth. Every quest you do traces back to the main storyline in a way that makes sense. You’re not just killing stone troggs because they’re ugly (although, truthfully, that’s a good reason)–you’re doing it to please the earth elementals, because they have one of the pieces you need to help restore the rift. There are minor conflicts and subplots, but almost every quest can somehow be traced back to the main conflict of the zone.

Resolution: This is probably my favorite part of the questing. Right now, on live servers today, you just run out of quests if you stay in one zone. “Oh, I can’t find any more quests in this zone, guess it’s time to find a new one.” In the beta, there is no doubt you’ve completed a zone. After finishing all the outlying quests, there’s one big quest left, and it resolves whatever you’ve been working towards in the zone. It may not be a completely resolved–perhaps you’ve only driven the forces back for a time–but it is a clear, major resolution to the conflict in the zone.

We’re not just hired killers–we’re heroes. And this time I feel like one. Battle on, heroes!

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2 Comments

Filed under Blogstuff, Experiences, Information

2 responses to “More Than a Mercenary: Questing in Cataclysm Beta

  1. I hope that they use the phasing so that if you go BACK to a zone you’ve cleared, its STILL cleared. I thought that was one of the most annoying parts of Vanilla (and BC/Wrath up to this point too). You do ALL this stuff to make something a certain way.. and 3 minutes later, things are back the way they were again.

    • battlechicken

      From what I’ve seen, once you’ve phased, you’ve phased (like Icecrown is now). Obviously some quests are still going to be there–if you kill Old George he’ll still respawn a minute later. But because of the way the quests are laid out, once you’ve killed Old George, you’ll have no reason to go back to his spawn point. In your progression, he might as well be buried at the bottom of the ocean.

      For those who worry about the phasing issue from the opposite end (help! I’m at the summoning stone but I can’t see any of my party members because we’re all on different phases!), the new party frames have phase indicators to tell you who is on the same phase as you and who is not. It’s not as good as being able to shift phases to see your party members or to help a friend, but it’s a start.

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