Phasing, the changing of the world as you progress through the story of Northrend, is one of the innovations that Blizzard introduced to the game with the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.
And, as a method of investing people in the tale of the expansion, it has been a success.
It is certainly an answer to the long time complaint about MMORPGs, that you can do all the quests you’re given and the world remains the same.
In Northrend the world changes based on your actions. Some of my favorites:
The Argent Vanguard fortress is under siege when you first arrive. You help the Argent Crusade to throw back the scourge and the area phases and the fortress is no longer surrounded by hostile foes. Your assistance has tangible results in the world.
You help the Crusade assault and hold Crusader’s Pinnacle and, if you defeat the scourge counter attack, the location goes through a phase change when next you visit. A tower has been built, more quests have opened up, and a flight point has become available.
You assist the Knights of the Ebon Blade in their attempt to retake the Shadow Vault and turn the minions there to assist the Knights. Again, with success comes a new quest hub, an inn, a flight point, and a set of daily quests.
And all of this is great. It works well when you are running through the quest lines by yourself.
But if you have a regular group, and that group does not keep rigidly aligned in quests, there can be issues.
Being out of sync has lead to conversations I haven’t heard since the early days of EverQuest II when multiple instances of the same zone used to be common.
When you are in a group that is out of sync, you can see the group member markers on your mini map, but you cannot see anybody who is not in your phase of the area. So your whole group can be standing next to Highlord Tirion Fordring, but if you aren’t all in the same phase, you can spend a lot of time insisting that you’re RIGHT THERE and yet not be able to see your friends.
So you have to wait for your out-of-sync friends to catch up. But you cannot help them because you are not in the same phase. You can, however, leech experience from their kills if you hover over their dot on the mini map while they run the quests.
With our group and it’s range of play time budgets, this has ended up being an issue on a number of occasions.
Now I’m not saying phasing is bad. I still think it is very cool. And it is a discreet phenomenon. You are not in a different phase of the entire zone, just a small area of it, though the localized nature of it can lead to moments of confusion. The other night four of us flew through an arch in Icecrown, but I could only see three of us on the other side. Earl had done the quest in the phasing quest in the area so he flew into a different version location.
But it would be nice if there were a way to resolve the out of sync group issue besides waiting for those behind to catch up.
I don’t know what the answer is. It certainly is not the biggest issue facing the world, but it is one which our group seems to be running into with some regularity of late.
And given that phasing is supposed to be a huge part of the upcoming Cataclysm expansion, I hope Blizzard has some ideas on the subject.