Lich King in Review – Part 1, The Leveling Experience

Lich King took the best part of both classic and Burning Crusade era’s of WoW, and improved them even more.  By and large, this expansion has proved to be nothing less than a crowd pleaser.

The leveling experience is one of the major components of any expansion, so its not surprising that Blizzard put so much work into getting this right – and better than any of its predecessors.  And the work shows off.

Time

MMO’s by their nature are gigantic time sinks.  But what blizzard excells at in WoW is to hide that fact, moreso than ever before.  It’s always about hitting the next quest, about “just one more before bed.”  I am sure that lead to many a 4AM nights for teenagers, and parents alike, as they were leveling their first 80.

For many of my guildies, it seemed to be less grindy to get to 80, than in the previous expansion.  Several people commented on how they didn’t realize they were going to hit 80 quite so fast.   It was still a significant amount of time, but in the end, it was not as long as it took in Burning Crusade.  The last 3  Levels during the BC era were just nightmares.  There are untold number of stories in the officers of my guild on how they just ground out the last lvl and a half becuase they couldnt stand to be so close, yet so far away, any longer.  Lich King did not suffer from that.

Quests

By and far, this is the biggest improvement that Lich King on its predecessors.  If you look at quests in Classic and Burning Crusade, you have two themes going on.

The first is the most annoying – that of “Kill Ten Boars.”  Often time, this was acoompanied by “Get 5 spleens” from said boars (substitute for any plainly visible organ).  Of course, the drop rate was always atrocious on those items.   So even though the quests were designed to be completed at the same time, you often were killing three or four times the original number of boars.

The second type of quest is that of the messenger.  Those that had you fly from one end of the continent to the other – then back!   Those quests are purely time sink quests as you were likely not to have explored that place yet, thus have no flight point.  Lousy experience, and lousy XP on those quests.

Lich King very much remedied this situation.  Quests were very much story drive, and the amount of “Kill ten Rats” quests were significantly reduced.  When you were asked to go somewhere, it was to introduce you to the next questing hub, or you were directed to a place that was usually easily identifyable on the map.   Very few times (I can think of one in particular in Howling Fjord) would there be a quest that simply made no sense as to where the objective was.

Also, widely believed to be implemented (but not officially confimed, of course) is a “progressive” droprate.  Meaning, if you were questing for something and it didn’t drop with that kill, you had a greater and greater chance to pick it up.  This would keep stacking until you were virtually guaranteed to get the item on your next kill.  No more grinding those Goretusk Livers (that famous quest in westfall can die.).

Also, there were plenty of quests.  When I dinged 80, I had a little less than half of Icecrown to finish, all of Grizzly Hills, Storm Peaks, Sholozar Basin, and Borean Tundra left. Howling Fjord, Dragonblight, Zul’Drak, and part of Icecrown had gotten me 10 lvls of play, and I had only run 2 level up dungeons (UK and AN).

Storyline

*Disclaimer – I’ve only played alliance side*

The storyline was bigger, and much more in your face.  The quests were pretty much story driven, and the story lines were epic.  It really was immersive, like you were a part of the game.

However…..

The story lines were a bit incoherant.  I felt like I was drawn in too many directions.  In Borean Tundra you have the story of the Alliance getting a small foothold, but it is quickly dismissed.  Later you engage in the storyline of Malygos, which is continued in Dragonblight, and that of the Titans.  In Howling Fjord, which is much more coherant, we see more of the story of the alliance struggling to get a foothold in the region.   The conflict with the Horde is sprinkled throughout, but by and large, its about the alliance competing in this new, strange land.

As the expansion continues, it remains the same.  Some zones are all about the Lich king, Some about Malygos, some about the faction’s trials and tribulations, some about the titans, and their escapades with the old gods.  I can only hope that they tie these together with the last expansion of the game.

All in all, I have to say that the leveling experience in Lich King is much improved over its predecessors.  Easier, more flowing quests, with less repetition that completely immerses the player in the environment is certainly the ticket to future expansions.  This, of course, has the side effect of drawing the attention away from the time needed to level, and more into the quality of the game.  If Cataclysm shapes out to be half the expansion Lich King was, it will indeed be an epic expansion.

On a closing note – Icecrown is of course the final destination for many toons.  And phasing tech improves play there immensely.  The one major caveat I have is the last 4 quests in the zone (riders of frost/blood/unholy, and the following kill quest) are all 5 man group quests. And they are phased.  What in the world were you thinking blizz?   It took me the better part of 3 hours to get this quest pugged up with just 3 people (barely enough to get them down) to complete them.

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