Repopulating the Old World: Cross Realm Zones

Sometimes I think you want me to touch you.
How can I when you build the great wall around you? - Tori Amos, China

In a move that surprised everyone, Blizzard has announced that they are going to begin testing Cross Realm Zones in the Mists of Pandaria Beta. I love this idea like a big sloppy Dwarfling kiss, and given the subject of my last post, the timing of this announcement is particularly serendipitous.

I am a unrepentant Wrath Baby; I created my first character in the very twilight of the Burning Crusade expansion, mere months before Wrath of the Lich King went live. Because of this I have never experienced the Old World as the thriving, vibrant place that it was in Vanilla.

For me and thousands of other people who joined the game late, levelling in World of Warcraft is a solitary experience. The wilderness of Azeroth outside of the major cities is filled with bears and bandits and monsters of all types, but even on busy, highly populous servers, meeting another character is something of a rare occurrence. It's a lonely life, being a lowbie in Azeroth, but the new Cross Realm Zones aim to change that.

The way that Blizzard is trying to implement this is quite brilliant, if you ask me. Basically, certain realms will be linked together based on population, and each of those realms will share certain zones that are flagged as "Cross Realm". Using the Barrens as an example, a character on Sargeras would walk out of a realm-exclusive Orgrimmar into a Barrens shared by 5 other servers, and would see and interact with characters from all of those realms normally, just as if they were all on the same server. At the same time, Blizzard will have the ability to keep highly populated zones (Cities, to be sure) exclusive. This way Stormwind won't be crushed under the weight of thousands of people standing at the fountain oogling the fifteen thousand naked Night Elves dancing on the mailboxes.

I think this feature is fantastic. Not just a technically brilliant solution to make an older technology scale and adapt to the changing reality of the current, max-level focused state of the game, but also as a step to the ultimate goal of eliminating realms completely. I talked about this back in January, but the elimination of the barrier walls around the different realms is a very clever way for Blizzard to extend the life of the game. Right now, if Blizzard chooses to do so, the only realm-specific areas are the main cities, the Auction House and any zone that is going to be populated enough not to be a concern like the Cataclysm zones and the new Mists of Pandaria zones.

As a social, massively multiplayer game, it is always a little bit odd to run around the world outside of the two major faction cities of Stormwind and Orgrimmar and see, well, nothing. By repopulating the Old World, new players will finally get an experience that is close to what older players experienced when WoW was new and when having a maximum level character was rare: A world that is full of people to interact with.

It really doesn't matter that there are no group quests in the game any more, nor is there any real need to team up with people to defeat the quests that people are given. Having a lot of people busily running around doing there own thing is exciting. It adds an immense amount of flavour to the game.

Like the bustling sidewalks of downtown New York, it's all about vibrancy and life and activity; it's about the soul of this game, which is missing in the low level zones. Bringing that kind of life back to zones other than the cities is going to go a long way to help make new players—and old players who love lowibe alts like myself—remain excited about this game for years to come.

After all, it is World of Warcraft. Bravo, Blizzard. Well played.


The Joy of Lowbies

"It strikes! one, two,
Three, four, five, six. Enough, enough, dear watch,
Thy pulse hath beat enough. Now sleep and rest;
Would thou could'st make the time to do so too;
I'll wind thee up no more."
- Ben Jonson The Staple of News

As I mentioned in my last post, I don't have much in the way of free, unimpeded time to dedicate to WoW these days.

The only raid boss that I attempt these days;
believe me, this is a fight with a lot of movement.
I'm sad to say that such an odd, irregular and easily interrupted schedule is not one that is conducive to raiding. Over the past couple of months or so my level 85s have withered due to neglect. My regular raiding has completely ground to a halt after going 8/8 on two toons with no heroic bosses down at all.

With only an hour or so of available time in an evening, running dungeons or LFR seem like an exhausting, implacable mountain to climb and not worth the effort. Doing daily quests gets very boring very quickly. Maximum level PVP is new and scary and intriguing, but would require a fair bit of effort to get the gear that would allow me to survive for more than the brief moment between when an enemy sees me and when he decides that I should be dead.

So what's a Dwarf to do?


I am an Altaholic, but not in the usual way. I am in a guild with several people who I would consider the norm for extreme cases of Altaholism: They tend to create an alt and focus intently on it until it reaches max level before giving a new one any real attention. Consequently, they have a lot of max level characters and characters that are well on their way there.

I am a little different. I have dozens of low level characters of every race and every class scattered around 10 or 12 different servers. Not including the Death Knights (only one of which I've ever gotten out of the starting zone; he's level 62), only a couple of these characters are above level 25. My highest level Horde character ever just dinged 18. Seriously.

I really enjoy low level characters and low level questing. There is something very compelling about boiling a class down to its very essence and seeing it naked and helpless in its infancy. In those initial levels each class is very similar: Uncomplicated, pure, and a joy to play. To see which skills are learned and when, and to discover how to use each new skill and see the way a class gradually becomes more complex is very intriguing.

I'm not really clear as to why, but I seem to hit a brick wall between level 14 and level 20. In the mid-teens the class will have taken shape and while many important and class defining abilities are yet to come, the fundamental structure of how the class is played is evident. For me, at least, this is when the experiment to test my attitude towards a class feels as if it's run its course.

As well, it's at that point that a character is out of the starting zones and into the next areas (Barrens, Westfall, etc). These zones are larger and more involved than the starting zones and feel more general and less specific to the character. This is when my mindset changes from, "This is a fun toy to play with," to "Oh gawd, I have how many freakin' levels to go?!?". Taking a character through these zones begins to firmly cement the notion in my head that I'm committing to the grind to get the character up to max level; a long and daunting process, especially for someone who levels as slowly as I do. Therefore, any character that makes it past that barrier and hits 20 is one that—in my head, at least—has been selected to survive and make the slow journey to level cap.

I have really only levelled a couple of different characters past this breaking point. My first character, a hunter, got to level 48 before he was abandoned and left to rot as I switched servers. My Warrior, Priest and Paladin all got to max level in Wrath, and two of them have gone onto 85. Thallie, my Shaman and current raiding main (the cobwebs on her are, at least, fresh) was the first character I created when Cataclysm launched and is the only one that I have managed to take to max level since then. So many more have failed this litmus test and remain unlevelled and unloved.

It seems that the decision to go past the level 20 barrier is a significant one for me. It is a mental commitment to that character; a commitment to learn and master the nuances of the class at the very highest levels. However, if the class, or the character's name or the server or anything else doesn't feel right, then that character is doomed to a shadowy half-life of neglect. Not to be deleted, but doomed to sit in the Inn at Sentinel Hill or at The Crossroads with pitiful white or grey gear, never to be the hero that they could be due to the capriciousness of my whimsy.

So having said all that, with a fervent desire to play but with limited play time in which to do it, I have been spending a lot of time with my low level Alts lately. Some have pushed past the elusive and mysterious Level 20 and have become, at least in my mind, actual characters, whilst some are still merely interesting toys to experiment with. It's been a lot of fun, and I've been indulging myself by seeing areas of the game and doing activities that I've never done before. It's as good a way as any to ride out the end of this expansion, at least until the raid healing bug bites me again.


To Beta or Not to Beta

"It is my desire ... to do nothing which I cannot do with my whole heart. Having said this, I have said all." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

I'm sure this post will frustrate a lot of people who have been anxiously awaiting their Mists of Pandaria beta invite, if there is anyone left who doesn't have one.

As a Annual Pass subscriber I knew that I was going to receive a Beta Invitation eventually as it is one of the perks of committing to keeping a WoW account active for a year. It ain't all about shiny horsies, after all. When it finally did arrive I was thrilled; I had never had a closed-beta invite to anything before so this was something new. I was always a little jealous of people who could claim that they started WoW in the beta, so this was my chance to get into something at the very beginning.

Of course, as a blogger, the beta of a new expansion provides a vast new range of subjects to talk about. There are a lot of changes coming that need to be discussed and opined on, not to mention entirely new and gorgeous vistas that are awaiting my virtual, gnomish-engineered camera. There are endless topics in the beta to write about because the beta itself changes constantly. No blogger in their right mind would pass up the such a rich source of writing material, would they?

Well, perhaps I'm not in my right mind, but after the initial excitement I've decided not to participate in the Beta.

Don't hate me if you don't have one yet, let me explain...


With the great heaving chaos that is my life right now, any chance I get to play WoW is a rare and beautiful thing. It often comes in the few fleeting moments between when the Dwarfling is put to bed and the daily chores are done (which means cleaning up the swath of destruction that she leave in her wake) and when I go to bed. Sometimes it's an hour, sometimes less. And sometimes all I can manage is to stagger to the couch and pass out, leaving the great, menacing evil-doers of Azeroth unmolested for a night.

There are two great drawbacks to spending my very limited amount of playtime on a Beta server as opposed to the Live servers. One is that everything that is done in the Beta is transient because it will be reset to zero when the Beta ends and the expansion is launched. So any time and effort that I put into a Beta character is wasted and I think better spent progressing my characters on the Live Realms.

The other drawback has to do with the eternal frustration of crashes and inconvenient bugs. There is nothing more infuriating than having a glitch cost precious time when on a limited play schedule. I don't think I could handle the instability of the Beta. I think it would create far more tension than it would solve for me. And I get enough of that with the low level PVP that I've been indulging in lately.


The other, less concrete reason has to do with spoilers. I'm the type of person who values the quality of the experience as much as the experience itself. How something is done is just as important as doing the thing itself. A Beta, with all the bugs and unfinished bits, is not a great way to see content for the first time if the texture of the experience is a primary concern. Seeing things perfectly polished in their final forms is what I'm after, and if that means waiting, then so be it.

However, the other side of this particular coin is that on launch day it is going to be virtually impossible to see things the way they should be seen. The giant crush of people descending on the new zones will make things chaotic and mucky, as has happened with every expansion so far. The Pandaren starting zone is going to be wall-to-wall bear butts competing for the same quest mobs and objectives, people will be griefing with their gigantic mounts on top of quest-givers and things are going to be in a general state of higgledy-piggledy. Not really the best way to experience brand new content either, is it?


Of course, when I see things like this I can't help but be tempted by the Beta.

Taken from the official WoW site.

From what I've seen so far I am incredibly impressed with the quality of the visuals of Mists of Pandaria. It looks simply amazing; the best work that Blizzard has done so far, I think. I would love to experience it first hand and create some stunning Images of Azeroth posts, but time simply is not on my side.