It looked like we might get a third straight week of the whole group on together, but Ula was not feeling well and had to bow out.
That left four of us looking for something to do. The group, as it stood on Saturday night:
- Earlthecat – Level 82 Human Warrior Tank
- Skronk – Level 82 Dwarf Priest Healing
- Bungholio – Level 82 Gnome Warlock DPS
- Alioto – Level 82 Night Elf Druid DPS
- Ula – Level 82 Gnome Mage DPS (Out, not feeling well)
All of us had managed to make it to level 82, which was our max level target. So the first thing we did was head off to find the NPC who turns off experience so that we would not inadvertently rise too far in levels before we finished off the Cataclysm instances. Skronk had scouted this out previously so we all met up in Stormwind keep where the XP guy resides. I actually couldn’t find him at first, and needed to go stand by Skronk before I saw him. You see, the NPC is a rogue who is in stealth mode… so you cannot really see him until you are close to him.
I am not sure what message Blizzard is trying to send with that NPC. Are they saying they put this feature in but are not really happy about it? Or that you just need to work/suffer a bit if you want to turn off their highly tuned vertical character advancement system?
Anyway, we found him and all paid the 10g fee to turn off experience and saw our XP bars vanish. Now the question was, how important is such advancement when playing as a group? We decided to test that out by taking a trip to the other early Cataclysm zone, Mount Hyjal.
We chose Mount Hyjal for two reasons. The obvious first one was that we were all in sync in Vashj’ir after last week, so we didn’t really want to mess that up. The second reason was that there was not a lot of enthusiasm to head back to Vashj’ir. There were some complaints of disorientation and a touch of motion sickness after last week. The idea of going back under the sea was one of the reasons Ula decided to sit out, as she felt that another run at the zone would just make her feel worse.
Fortunately, the Throne of Tides instance appears to be dry land under the sea as opposed to a 3D swim-a-thon, so I think we’ll be okay doing that. But we might otherwise be done with Vashj’ir. A couple of us can, if need be, swim out there and bring the rest out using the summoning stone. Dry land for us.
First we had to get ourselves lined up and out to Mount Hyjal. As it turned out, each of us was at a different stage in relation to the zone. Bung hadn’t started the quest chain to get there yet. Earl had started it but then moved on after arriving in Moonglade. I had brought Alioto out there to harvest herbs and had done the first couple of quests. And Skronk had started on the Mount Hyjal quest line a while back and was a ways down the line.
So Bung and Earl started off getting to the zone, which didn’t take long, while Skronk and I took the portal out. Then the group started doing quests, with people joining in as it hit where they stood. All in all, it went pretty well. The quests seemed to work when run as a group, with almost no cases of updates not being shared when it might have been appropriate to do so. (I can only think of one point when that happened.)
There were even some nice touches, such as an escort quest that three of us were working on, along with a couple of other players players, where each of us could only see the NPC that was specific to our version of the quest. Games have often enforced this in the past by simply allowing only a single version of the NPC to exist in the game. The Pengail quest in the Lone Lands springs to mind. While you could get the quest as a group, if somebody else was shepherding him through (or directly into) the goblins, you had to wait your turn.
So that went really well, with a pile of people able to do the quest in parallel without the obvious hitch of multiple versions of the NPC in question wandering about. (Though there is always that awkward moment where “your” version of the NPC spawns while the original is still visible, so for a short bit there are two of them.)
That was also the only point during our evening when phasing split the group. Everybody on the escort quest was phased into a different version of the underground area until the NPC was delivered. Skonk, who had done the quest, remained in the original version of the area. However, once the quest was completed, we were moved back into the same version of the zone as Skronk. It seems like they went for a lighter touch with phasing, at least with what I have seen so far. Nobody has been stuck on the wrong side of a phase wall so far.
I had also forgotten how much being able to fly in Mount Hyjal affects the zone. Since it, along with Twilight Highlands and Uldum, are just adjuncts to the current world, as opposed to being new continents, if you can fly in old Azeroth you can fly there. So it is easy to just skirt danger and set down close to where you need to be. We just fly off here and there, dropping in only where we had to.
That is the flip side of flying, as it really cuts back the bite any zone has unless the zone is designed well. It is always a double edged sword. Flying is wonderful and really sets you free while at the same time trivializing and ground obstacles. I was happy enough when I couldn’t fly in Pandaria until 90 and I hope we won’t be able to fly until level 100 when Warlords of Draenor comes out.
I was also a bit surprised at how crowded the zone was. Sure, it was a Saturday night and there has been the whole soft server merge thing going on. But still, this is one of the starter zones for Cataclysm, which is now three years old and hasn’t been the new thing since Mists of Pandaria rolled out a year back. But I have seen some of the same thing in The Burning Crusade; overland content isn’t that well populated, but you can get into a Dungeon Finder group… even as DPS… pretty quickly even on a weeknight. So Blizz seems to be doing okay on making the world seem alive, at least in the server group where our server, Eldre’Thalas, resides.
And, as it turned out, we were fine moving along through the zone with experience turned off. Gold was made from quests, equipment upgrades showed up now and again, and there was some resource harvesting on the side. Plus, there was still advancement of some sort. While our experience was turned off, we still were generating experience for the guild. The guild had just hit level 10 earlier in the day… up from level 3 when we rolled back into the game about a month ago… and our evening worth of work put it about half way to 11.
I find the guild experience mechanism mildly interesting as a design choice. Essentially, the prime way the average guild member earns experience for the guild is by completing quests. But quest completion gives a flat rate return of 60K guild experience. So if I do a level 90 quest in Pandaria, the guild gets 60K. If I roll a new character, getting him in the guild, and do the first “Hi, hello!” quest, it also earns the guild 60K. So if you are not doing other things as a guild… raids, challenges, scenarios, or whatever… everybody can contribute at the same rate via quests. It is very egalitarian, and certainly makes it more likely that we will have a level 25 guild some day. Was it always this way, or was that a change that came in after we left for greener pastures?
Anyway, we ran through maybe a third of the zone living… or reliving… the content. Eventually we hit a boss-like mob on one quest chain that seemed like a good end point.
After that we did our semi-traditional group shot just to commemorate the evening.
So that was our Saturday night run. Hopefully everybody will be in good health and ready to tackle our first instance next time around.