Since midnight of the 13th most of my non-sleeping, non-working hours have gone into playing ‘Wrath of the Lich King’. On last thursday, my impression of the game was somewhat nonplussed, mainly because the quest grind brings out a jealous competition in everyone. Everyone is racing each other for that quest kill, or trying to pick up scraps of metal as they spawn before each other. When you’re in an area and there are more players than monsters it’s hard to feel like a hero. In addition to the annoyance that causes, there have been some ugly server queues on Uther the first three nights of the expansion. I would come home from work and find that I am player #600 in line to log in, with an expected wait time of around 35 minutes. Having to sit through that and then race a million night elf hunters for the tag on a quest objective was not very fun.
That all said, once everyone is done racing through the levels the world will feel fairly population sparce outside of the capital cities and the new city of Dalaran. It takes about 7 minutes to fly across the southern tip of Northrend. The environment is gorgeous. I was not that excited for the Howling Fjords starting area during beta due to low framerate problems on my older computer, but now that that is solved it is a much nicer place to start out than the somewhat bland-in-comparisson Borean Tundra. The Howling Fjords have a very ‘braveheart’ feeling to them, with sweeping hillsides that remind me of the Midgard side of the ‘Shrouded Isles’ expansion, but to simply write them off as a the ‘viking’ area does a disservice to the massive amount of content and story packed into this zone. On the north side of the zone dark iron dwarves enscribe stone giants with runic commands and send them northwest into the wilderness; their purpose not yet revealed to me. (But I imagine it involves going to Storm Peaks.) On the west side of the zone the forsaken plot and scheme as usual, but this time there is something more sinister about it all. The architecture has shifted from being a co-op of the skull-festooned ‘castle and tomb’ style of the Nerubians to a full-on Frankenstein style mad-scientist/gothic architecture. Along the west side of the fjord, an ancient norse-looking lift ferries you down out to an island where you run through the usual ‘kill animals, collect meat’ quests for the Tuskarr. They send you over to meet up with a goblin and two guys floating on a ridiculous looking pirate raft, where an enthusiastic cabin boy paddles you over to pirate outpost for some more quests. Eventually the circuit of quests involves dispatching a giant killer whale and returning with it’s fat to be used to swab some decks. When you get back to the Tuskarr, they are outraged that ‘Big Roy’ is dead and the remaining killer whales are not mating. They were thankfully unaware that I was actually the agent of said butchering. I quickly buried my inner shame at slaughtering yet another magnificent beast and rode the giant sea turtle over to their other town. What happened to Big Roy wasn’t as brutal as what happened to that poor earth colossus with the cannon on that ghostly pirate ship.
On the other side of the island is the formentioned Borean Tundra, it’s a set of rolling brown hills with very little vegitation. There are some decent quests along the coastline, and a tongue in cheek poke at the environmental movement with the D.E.H.T.A. encampment (druids for the ethical and humane treatment of animals). Most of the D.E.H.T.A. quests involve killing trappers, killing clam divers, springing baby mammoths out of traps and other sorts of heroic things. At the center of the druid encampment is a statue of Nessingwary, the same ‘big game hunter’ that players have been helping kill massive amounts of animals in both Stranglethorn Vale and Nagrand over the past few years. There’s also a massive fire surrounding him, pouring toxic-looking smoke into the air.
The worst part of Borean for me was the quests for the Taunka, a refit of the Tauren race with a new bison head tacked onto them. The female of the species did not get the same treatment, so apparently the male Taunka mate with what appears to be normal Tauren females. There are some steamy hot-springs which are probably the most bland looking part of the expansion so far. The quest line here mostly deals with the Taunka fleeing before the undead scourge, and investigating an outpost of mechanized gnomes which tie into the ‘titan lore’ problem.
The best part of Borean Tundra, is the War of the Dragonflights storyline, which involves you riding a giant badass red dragon over to what appears to be ground zero of the ‘problem with blue dragon and magic’ storyline. There’s also some moral dilemnas to be chewed on. One of the quests for the Dalaran magi has you capture an enemy mage, then haul him (in chains) back for questioning. Once you get back there, they have you head to the tower with some sort of ‘mental needler’ to extract information from him. That’s right. The game asks you to engage in extrordinary rendition. The Dalaran apparently have a code of ethics preventing them from torturing people, but not a code of ethics preventing them from paying people like you to torture people for information. You are handed a magically restrained guy in heavy gothic facepaint and told to shock him with the mind needle until he tells you where the hostage red dragon/lady is. “It’s extremely painful, but causes no permanent damage.”
I paused, thinking things through. What would my character think about this? Vulture is a orc rogue, more specifically one who has the majority of his talent points specialized into Assassination. He’s a brute and a killer, but not a mindless sadist. I think he probably wouldn’t have too many qualms about ‘doing what has to be done’. There is money and experience points involved here as well… It’s also just a game… and computers can’t feel pain (yet)…
I shock the restrained mage, and his gloating defiance slowly melts away into pleading for mercy until he tells me what I want to hear. I hand in the needler, collect my money and leave quickly. I am not proud of what I did in that tower overlooking the Borean Tundra.