Last night saw me finishing Vash’jir, the first time in a game that I’ve spent days in an aquatic environment, surrounded on all sides by little effervesent bubbles, and a riotous mix of colors.
I really enjoyed the storylines I encountered, and the constant building of different components into a cohesive whole for the region was a joy to participate in. Yet…. while I enjoyed my first visions, and the ease of always knowing where my quests were leading, I also have concerns for future playability since there is a distinctive lack of choice in choosing what quests I wish to accomplish, and which I don’t. In order to open up new quests hubs you must participate in all portions of the story–you can’t decide that gearing up the Alliance is too much bother, and you’d rather work on explosive building with your dwarvish and gnomish friends. Whether or not this will actually be an imposition in the future is too hard to say at the moment, because, for the most part, I didn’t find a quest that I just groaned to ever have to repeat again, but the rigidity of the new system raises questions.
Another thing I wanted to talk a bit about today is the Z axis. Underwater life is much more three-dimensional than our usual wanderings in the rest of the world, even Northrend and Outland which utilized flying, and flying mount quests. My first day, I was bemoaning that third axis as mobs were respawning so quickly and heavily that it was easy to be swimming through a quadrant and have a school of toughs all spawn pratically on top of you with little or no hope of reprieve. Despite my experience playing pilot games and the like, I wondered if I was broken for Z-axis gameplay.
This feeling gradually intensified as I left the packed starter areas and came to more secluded waters. It seemed that I would be floating along marvelously, intuitively understanding the 3-D aspect, and then, out of the blue, I would be stymied by too many mobs pulled from areas I wasn’t expecting when I chose to break out a Starfall. Why was I struggling? I mean, it couldn’t be ME, right?
Then I thought about it some more. Why was I vacillitating between the two modes? And while I hate to do the blame the developer game, I’m darn tempted to say, well, it’s how the Z-axis is utilized by the developers.
In most cases, the X and Y placement of mobs is not a perfect grid, but is randomized throughout, leaving wholes in the web for intrepid adventurers to pass through unmolested if they don’t need thsoe mobs for some reason. Even when an area is heavily populated with mobs, the patterns of mob movement is easily discernible, showing clumps of mobs in a semi-random pattern, followed by giant fields of nothing.
However, when you add that third axis, it both collides and works with the other two. Having a “clump” mentality doesn’t work as well in some respects, because you just end up with a wall of mobs, instead of the nice clean “pack” that you were searching for. For the most part, Blizzard has chosen to layer their Z-axis mobs a bit differently. On canyon walls, the placement is great, giving you an interesting blend of mobs and critters along the face of a wall for example. However, in open-ocean area, the Z-axis is often layered with layer 1, layer 2, and layer 3 being placed on specific grid-lines that have little to nothing to with the environment.
Dependable references, such as quest-givers, are always placed at 0 on the Z-axis (on the floor) or above the action, if not entirely removed from the aquarium by placement in a cave. Likewise, most quests require maximum participation at “ground” level, and little to no movement across the entire Z-axis. When you do find yourself doing something stupid (Starfall) it can be shocking to “discover” that there are more planes than the one you are residing on, because you haven’t moved to Layer 2, or Layer 3. For the most part, Z-axis movement is fluid, but each layer could be considered a “floor,” that you can reach by “flying” instead of by taking an elevator. In many respects, not much different from the flying zones we already know and love.
Now, lest you think Vash’jir is a God-forsaken fishbowl that should be avoided at all costs, let me disabuse you of that notion. It IS fun. I have screenshots galore to get organized and put up, and, I would be gushing over how much I loved the weaving of the storyline if I didn’t think I’d be ruining someone’s immersive experience by discussing it. Yes, I know, Cataclysm is out, the information has been out since God knows when, what’s to keep back? And all I can say is, I got to learn it firsthand as I quested, and I don’t want to take away that experience from someone else, even inadverdently.
Vash’jir Grade Sheet