WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the Tanaan Jungle starting experience and Shadowmoon Valley. Please read on at your discretion.
Having played through the Tanaan Jungle and Shadowmoon Valley starting experiences in the Warlords of Draenor beta, I have but one thought: “Wow is this game buggy!” The Tanaan Jungle quests were relatively smooth, with only one or two glitches to be found, but Shadowmoon took several nights to complete, simply because certain quests simply did not work on certain nights. Putting aside the shocking revelation that a game still in beta could be full of bugs, the zones themselves were pure Blizzard magic.
There were concerns that the Tanaan Jungle experience would get repetitive for players seeking to send their armies of alts to Draenor. It probably will, but the good news is that it plays quick. (and probably quicker once you know exactly what to do each time.) The entire zone is a harried dash from checkpoint to checkpoint, as you, along with a squad of Alliance and Horde leaders, work to close the Dark Portal. Along the way, several characters for the expansion are (re)introduced, usually by shouting their name and shaking their fist from afar, so we will know just who we are facing when we encounter them again in later zones. The quests culminate in a promised epic cinematic (not yet implemented, of course), where the Dark Portal is destroyed, presumably stranding your forces on Draenor. At that point, the Iron Horde chases players off to their respective faction starting zone – Frostfire Ridge for the Horde, and Shadowmoon Valley for the Alliance.
Since I expect to be play Frostfire Ridge at least three times on live, I decided to experience Shadowmoon Valley. Aside from some places bearing familiar names, this zone could not be more different from its Outland future-self. Vast plains exist with Talbuk and Elekk roaming freely. A forested area proves to be a good location to build a garrison. (It appears that the Garrison will consume the forest, but for as far as we could get in beta, the garrisons are still relatively small.) The Draenai are numerous here, with several settlements that all lead up to the beseiged Temple of Karabor. The Shadowmoon clan and the Iron Horde are around to pose a threat, but in a surprising twist (and one that I cannot believe many Alliance players will like), the Draenai have a peaceful relationship with a breakaway sect of Shadowmoon orcs, who were upset with the direction in which Ner’zhul has led the clan. Not only do Alliance players get to fight alongside Thrall, they now also get to accept quests from orcs, while Khadgar is off moonlighting with the Horde in Frostfire Ridge. None of this is surprising given how close the factions have become at the end of War Crimes, so it will be interesting to see if anything should happen in Warlords to drive the factions apart.
For a levelling zone, it is expected to not be able to fly during this part of the experience. There are a decent number of flight points, although they could be better connected. The first two flight paths I found (my garrison, and Embaari Village) are not connected, and it was not until several quests later that I linked the paths. This is irrelevant at max level, but it is concerning if Blizzard has been saying that flight paths will be improved to negate the need for flight. That said, the paths did seem direct and fairly quick.
The zone does a good job of highlighting the different factions within the Draenai, and the chance to see the Draenai as they lived before their decimation at the hands of the orcs is interesting. As is usual for a starting zone, several plotlines are set up, to be played out later in the various dungeons and raids. (Blizzard needs to keep the Dungeon Journal locked during the early parts of beta, because its too easy to cross-check characters and see who is really our enemy. At least one characters treachery is telegraphed in this fashion.)
There are some questions raised from the events of Shadowmoon. [WARNING: major spoilers follow]. Ner’zhul attempts to call upon the Dark Star, which turns out to be a Naa’ru in its void state. Velen is able to stop Ner’zhul’s magic by sacrificing himself to return the Naa’ru to its light state (cinematic NYI, dammit!). Just what the impact of alternate-Velen sacrificing himself will prove to be is intriguing. Presumably, our Velen remains unaffected, but for a visionary prophet, could our Velen have known what was happening? Will he see this alternate history as a vision of his own? Since the Naa’ru absorbed Velen’s energy to refuel itself, would our current Velen then have a connection to the Naa’ru? The main plot point is that there is now a power vacuum for the Draenai leadership, which will probably result in a competition between Exarch Akama and the upcoming Yrel. It does feel cheap that Blizzard would sorta-kill a major-character’s alternate-version, but the ramifications of such a death are unclear. Not that I want anything to happen to Velen Prime, but it would be interesting if this early event paid off at the end of the expansion with our Velen either repeating the same sacrifice, or deciding to relocate to Draenor and lead these now leaderless people.
Overall, Shadowmoon Valley and Tanaan Jungle were fun zones to play through, and I won’t mind playing them again at launch (especially when all the bells and whistles we can expect from Blizzard are in place.) So far, the only real disappointment from the beta is that this is all still pre-release content.
New Arrakoa models have been datamined! Add me to the list of people who wish these were playable! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c-69c-4joA
Preview the mobs of Shadowmoon Valley! Odd that there are plants there. Don’t they need sunlight? http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14776468/beasts-of-the-savage-lands-shadowmoon-valley-7-18-2014
More official zone previews!!!
– Ashran – learn why you’re going to hate being stuck in the cities on this island! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14833872
– Gorgrond – Angry rocks fighting angry plants. Can’t we all just get along? http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14833871/warlords-of-draenor-zone-preview-gorgrond-7-17-2014
– Talador – Like Draenai buildings filled with orcs? This is your zone! http://us.battle.net/wow/en/blog/14833868/warlords-of-draenor-zone-preview-talador-7-17-2014
World of Warcraft revenue is over $1 billion annually! I guess Blizzard are the real gold farmers. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2014-07-18-the-old-republic-earned-usd165-million-last-year-report