LBY3
The continuing adventures of Beau Yarbrough

I Was a Teenage Alpha Tester I

Thursday, March 18, 2004, 18:22
Section: Geek

(Warning: The following is a big info-bomb. While I have tried not to spoil a lot of the cool surprises beta testers will discover in play, I wanted to give what I felt was a full overview of the game as it currently stands. A good amount remains to be done on the game, but in many ways, World of Warcraft feels fairly complete already, and so the following is not short.)

World of WarcraftIn November of 2003, I made my first World of Warcraft character, beginning play the night the human push (humans only) of the Blizzard WoW Friends & Family alpha test ended. Since then, I played in every push, getting a dwarven paladin to level 30, an undead mage to level 20, a troll shaman to level 22, and made characters of every other race and class (but priest) and got them to level 10 or so. (I had just about gotten a human paladin to level 14 the day the alpha test wrapped.)

I split my time between EverQuest and World of Warcraft alpha, and was unable to tell anyone about this, under threat of a) being kicked from alpha, b) being banned from beta and c) betraying the trust of people I like and respect at Blizzard Entertainment. I know I have some friends whose feelings will be hurt that I didn’t bring them into my confidence, and I’m sorry about that.

But now, that time is over. The first phase of the beta test has begun, and I’m looking forward to seeing my EQ friends stomping around the World of Warcraft with me. (My family members somehow managed to not try and sign up for beta until after the beta test sign-ups ended. I’m starting to wonder if I’m adopted.)

Things changed in every push (phase) of the alpha test, and more changes are still coming (the level 31-60 game, hunter and druid classes, a few more tradeskills, access to mounts, et cetera), but here’s the inside scoop based on my experiences. Feel free to ask questions, and I’ll answer what I can. (I mention the various pushes throughout the following. In order, starting in November 2003 and running through March 2004, the pushes were Human, Dwarf, Undead, Tri-Horde – featuring orc, troll and tauren – and All-Alliance.)

First off, what World of Warcraft is NOT

WoW is not a generic fantasy D&D world. It is also not EverQuest, which is pretty much a generic fantasy D&D world.

You will not be playing a high elf – I know some asshat ran around as one using the leaked alpha client using character models currently available, shooting screenshots like crazy, but he could have also done the same by pulling up a crab character model, and it wouldn’t mean that you could play crabs, either. I’ve seen pretty much all of the level 1-30 world, and have seen four or five high elves in all those areas. Only one of them was still culturally a high elf. The others were openly blood elves, or had turned to violence and piracy. Play Warcraft III and its expansion to experience (and cause) the fall of Quel’Thalas and the high elves. There are also no Drow/dark elves and expect to have everyone smack your ass around if you refer to night elves that way (think of them as wood elves as played by Shaquille O’Neil after he’s found religion).

In addition, if you are rabidly against steampunk, be aware it’s part of the World of Warcraft. This isn’t Arcanum – swords and shields are still the order of the day – but you will see dwarves, gnomes and goblin technology around (it’s the only way to cross the ocean for the Horde half of the time, for one thing) and any race can learn the Enginering tradeskill. Dwarves and goblins especially are a huge part of the world, and you will be running into examples of their technology, even if you never set foot in Khaz Modan. But only hunters (of certain races) will be able to use guns from level one, and the steamtech in WoW feels very appropriate; several people I played with were initially against the idea of it at all until they saw how it blended into the world.

The classes, even if they have familiar names to you, are not D&D classes, they’re not EverQuest classes, they’re not Dark Age of Camelot classes. WoW paladins do follow a code of honor, but they’d take Sir Galahad aside and tell him to stop being such a damn wuss more likely than not – and he’d use a giant sledgehammer before using a sword and shield. WoW shamans bear little resemblance to EverQuest shamans, and while I like the class in both games, there will be people crossing over from EQ to WoW who will find the fact that they’re almost entirely different jarring.

WoW is also not Dark Age of Camelot. This seems self-evident, but there were a lot of DAoC players in the alpha test who couldn’t get over that the game is going to feature consensual Player Versus Player combat, and not full-on PVP or have PVP as its endgame. PVP may well factor into it, but there’s no indication that the endgame won’t be PVE – Player Versus Enemy. There’s simply too many serious bad guys in the Warcraft universe that need a raid-sized hole stomped in their ass to think that Deathwing, Arthas and the Burning Legion won’t be a factor – in fact, given the foreshadowing in levels 1-30, I can pretty much guarantee we’ll be seeing them at some point.

WoW is also not Diablo, it is a true MMORPG. You do not level to 30 in an afternoon (although some psychotics have done it in a weekend). It is a fast-paced MMORPG with some randomization on loot, but it is definitely still an MMORPG.

Finally, WoW is not the Warcraft RTSes. While the classes and monsters and settings closely resemble those games (players of the Warcraft series will be getting non-stop nostalgia hits visiting old battlefields, seeing memorials to the heroes of Beyond the Dark Portal or even visiting villages just mentioned on Warcraft III’s load screen maps), things are different. Some background elements from manuals or mentioned in passing have been tweaked to make them work better in MMORPGs. (Where the Horde’s trolls come from, for instance, has moved from Stranglethorn, to just outside the Maelstrom, to just off the coast of Durotar, to further down the coast, in the Warcraft III manual, Warcraft III demo missions, The Frozen Throne and World of Warcraft, respectively.) Some spells you expect to see aren’t available, either because they’re being saved for hero classes, because they’re (temporarily) removed to rebalance them or because the dev team hasn’t found a way to implement them in a way that works in an MMORPG yet. While the setting is the same, WoW is not a Warcraft simulator. The dev team’s stated goal is to create a game that’s fun, not a MMORPG-as-social-experiment, as EQ did early on (all those empty buildings in Freeport are there for player-created content that never appeared) and Star Wars Galaxies did more recently.

What World of Warcraft IS Today

Let’s start with the first one. It’s fun. It’s a LOT of fun. Remember that magic you felt the first time you clicked with EverQuest? It’s back, and it’s back in huge buckets full. The first time you hear the snow crunch under your feet in Khaz Modan as your breath steams in the air, or the first time you ride a wyvern across the Barrens of Kalimdor or the first time an NPC shouts out your name, celebrating you saving the day at the end of a long quest, you’ll feel that magic. WoW is not perfect, but man, it’s really, really close. It’s loyalty to friends that kept me still playing EQ, but many alpha players dropped EQ, DAoC or Final Fantasy like a bad habit and never looked back. Expect sleepless nights, calling in sick from work and lost weekends all over again.

Eye Candy/Ear Candy

The game looks and sounds like a dream. Screenshots don’t really do it justice, but when you’re moving and running around, birds flying overhead, crickets chirping in the trees and the wind whistling through the branches, it feels like you’re playing and exploring a Disney cartoon for adults. While the art style isn’t anime, that’s the closest thing I can come to for a comparison – while it definitely looks like an animated movie, for the most part it’s all done in an adult fashion. The half-shuffling, half-swaggering undead patrol moving up the road in the Arathi Highlands, past the battle-scarred walls of Stromgarde certainly doesn’t look like anything for kids. (No one playing Toontown is likely to have ever frantically typed “GET OFF THE ROAD! GET OFF THE ROAD!” at their groupmates, for instance.)

The sound and music also are nothing short of incredible. Zoom your camera in as you run along, and you hear the jingle of your chainmail armor, and the sound of your boots crushing dry grass. The music is evocative and appropriate without being overwhelming (although run around Duskwood long enough and you’ll be ready to crawl out of your skin, the music’s so slasher-flick creepy). This is a game where you’ll want to leave the music on.

Starting Play

When the (big, big) download is finished, you begin by selecting a race and a class, and then doing some simple physical customizations. Usually this is hair style, face, facial hair, hair color, but it varies by race. More customizations are being added: During the undead push, we only got to choose the above options, but since then, they added all sorts of extra available deformities, like faces with no jawbones, straps to hold a shattered skull together and so on. I personally feel there is plenty of customization already – you’re not choosing between two nearly identical faces or hairstyles, DAoC style; the choices tend to be dramatic – but the folks who want more are gonna get it.

After that, you click the button, there’s a load screen, and you see a real time in-game cut scene, complete with voice-over narration as the camera races in towards you. Not all of these were available in the alpha, so this could change, but it was nice for setting the stage and letting you know the current state of things.

The first town you arrive in is a tiny little hamlet for your race (or, in the case of trolls and gnomes, it’s shared with an allied race). You get some very simple quests, have access to trainers who can help you through level 6 or so (although you’ll likely have left by then) and can get acclimated with the basics of the game in a mostly safe environment. Between level 4 and 8, you’ll move onto your second town, which is a little larger, has many more quests things available, including many tradeskill trainers, and is a harder area, and will take you through your low teens. (Orcs and trolls have an additional town between these two, a troll village on the coast.) After that, you’re close to your capital city, which you are typically sent to visit in a quest. These places are huge, so first time players should expect to sink a lot of time into exploring them. After that, you move through a series of different villages in new zones for each level range, each with higher level quests and content, each moving further and further out from that starting hamlet. It feels quite organic, and you usually don’t realize that you’ve made the transition from Anvilmar to Kharanos to Thelsamarr until you realize your quest log now all features areas far removed from the place you once called home. Starting with the capital city, almost all of these locations have flight paths that you unlock the first time you reach them, allowing travel back to where you’ve been through the capital city hub. (The games are centered around these cities, and learning your way around them is time well spent.)

Quests

When playing WoW, the vast majority of your time is spent on quests. These aren’t the (generally speaking) painful, slow and not-terribly-productive quests EQ players dread. A quarter to a half of your experience each level will come from just the quest end rewards, much of your gear will come from them (at least initially) and if you’re doing anything in WoW that moves your XP bar, odds are, you’re on a quest. Unlock every single one you can find – Warcraft III style yellow exclamation points will be over their heads, while silver ones will show up on quests you can get in the next five levels. The stuff around you to fight is almost always something you can also be getting quest rewards for fighting, and not taking on these quests is pointlessly hurting your character’s progress.

The quests vary from “the local tribe of gnolls are raiding Lakeshire, I’ll give you 5 silver pieces if you go kill X numbers of them to help drive them back while we wait for reinforcements from Stormwind” to “the Dragonmaw orcs are reorganizing and preparing for a military strike. We need you to sneak in to their hidden base and destroy their catapults.” The quests tend to be designed around the race in the area. You’ll find bickering human farmers asking you to sabotage each other’s crops, dwarven brewmeisters needing help finding ingredients for a special beer they’re working on, undead alchemists testing out a new plague to wipe out humanity for good this time (and the Scourge for good measure), or Taurens going on vision quests.

There are quests designed for soloers, quests designed for groups, and “elite” quests starting in the teens that are designed like five person raids, with double hit point very tough enemies and great rewards.

The goal is to never have an empty quest log at any level. Human lands absolutely accomplish this, but there are a few thin spots still for the other races, but more quests are constantly being added. The various classes also have (or are getting) class-specific quests that grant you new special abilities. Shamans face challenges set forth for them by spirits only they can see to gain mastery of new elemental totems, for instance, while paladins must prove themselves worthy over the powers of life and death by first resurrecting a fallen hero.

Your experience of WoW will revolve around these quests and the flavor and style of them varies greatly between races. If you find that the undead quests just turn you off, travel over to the rest of the Horde in Kalimdor and try there, because the higher level stuff continues much of the same themes. Dwarves, for instance, are focussed on fighting back the trogg threat, enjoying food and drink, exploring ancient ruins and battling the sinister Dark Iron Dwarves from levels 1-30 and beyond. If that seems like something you’re not interested in, it’s not going to change. Personally, I find the various themes each race explores to be very cool and nicely diverse. I won’t spoil things in detail, but there’s honestly a style of play for everyone.

The racial lifequests (think EQ epic quests) appear to start in earnest at level 26, although all of them play off themes introduced early on. Pedi and I started on the dwarf and human ones in earnest, and while I hadn’t found the night elf one – night elves were just added at the end, and the quests might not have been added – the human and dwarf ones were so freaking cool, I’m not at all worried. No idea what the rewards will be, since both quests are still in their earliest stages. Lifequests are good examples of the multi-stage quest series very common in WoW, with their own XP, cash and loot rewards along the way. We were only able to get a few stages in on the dwarf lifequest, but the designer’s note in the quest title said “,” and given what’s required, I fully expect it to be great. It appears that any race can do the racial lifequests for their faction, and the crises involved are certainly ones that the races wouldn’t mind help on. But the themes are very much tailored to each race, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the final rewards players can choose between were flagged to only be useable by members of the race in question.

Roleplaying

A few quick comments about roleplaying, since people on the official non-beta WoW boards seem to gnash their teeth a lot about this when they’re not doing the PVP/carebear fight that crept into alpha (thanks to all the DAoC players) as well. First off, World of Warcraft is not, in fact, improvisational theater or a Live Action Role Playing game. This should be obvious, but a lot of the people announcing how WoW will be overrun with Battle.net kiddies seem to think this is an amazing insight. (And, for the record, the Battle.net kiddies aren’t particularly bad – frankly, they’re a lot less disruptive than most of the people you can find in the Plane of Knowledge at any time, day or night, in EQ.) The game is totally level-driven, and it would be very, very hard to gain more than one or two levels off of mere exploration XP and non-combat quests. (You actually can get a fair amount of XP this way, but the non-combat quests don’t constitute most of them, and they’re rarely consecutive. This isn’t the World of Peacecraft, after all.)

Having said that, WoW is closer to Ultima Online than it is to EQ for enabling roleplayers to actually roleplay. In addition to the ubiquitous shops providing means to kill and prevent from being killed oneself, the environment is full of props and settings like florists, tailor-made formal attire and large meeting halls suitable for player-run events like weddings. For the RPG lite crowd, the interaction with the world also naturally draws your characters into the story. Your young dwarven would-be hero isn’t spending two hours filling backpacks with orcish belts in Crushbone (or, worse yet, the Bazaar) to dump on an NPC en masse and squirt through six levels. Rather, he has quests to collect information about the troll and trogg presence in the Coldridge Valley, delivers it to superiors, who in turn send him along to the next valley up the way to report, and then gathers more information there, and ultimately delivers it to the senate in Ironforge. The underlying mechanic is much the same – we’re talking about slaughter and collection quests in each case – but what makes WoW more RP than EQ is that what you’re doing actually feeds into the storyline. (The very same storyline that includes the racial lifequests, although it’ll be a while before you see the strands start to come together.) The fact that you can’t go and redo the same baby quests over and over because that’s easier than actually progressing through the story also helps.

Don’t expect WoW to be Dwarf: The Quaffing, but it’s going to be a lot more RP-friendly than EQ or DAoC, by a country mile. (If someone comes up with Dwarf: The Quaffing, please let me know.)

Classes

Each phase of the alpha had different races and classes available, and I played what interested me of what was open at the time. As I said before, I downloaded the client the last night of the human push, so I didn’t do anything that phase. But I’ve played all the available classes but priests to one extent or another – note that druids and hunters were not available at all during the alpha test, although I’m told both have been tested to an extent in Blizzard’s internal alpha. I’ll list the classes in the order I played them, for the most part.

Before I do that: None of these classes are support classes. Every class in WoW is meant to both contribute to a group and to be able to solo. When one, like the priest, has trouble, serious rebalancing occurs, and lo and behold, you end up with a class that not only can solo, but solos well. Strike phrases like how a class is “group-dependent” from your vocabulary; that has no place when talking about WoW. Lots of former EQ and DAoC players tried to put the priests in that box (and mages later), but Blizzard has been resistant to idiotic comments like that – of which they receive plenty through every medium imaginable. Don’t be one of the asshats, please.

Oh, and while Blizzard doesn’t respond to all, or most, of the comments posted to the alpha boards (and presumably the beta boards), they clearly were watching. Ideas and issues floated on the boards or via the /bug or /suggest commands routinely showed up in patch messages. It was, frankly, sort of cool to see. But with the much, much higher volume of posts likely on the beta boards (and especially given that many of the initial comments will be covering issues that the alpha folks have been commenting on since November), don’t freak out if blue names aren’t responding constantly. They are reading, and a truly good comment will be listened to. (i.e. don’t write up a big screed about how class-based MMORPGs are crap or how the world needs to be redesigned so it can be a full-time PVP gankfest or how two minutes to get to a distant new zone is far too long to travel and you’ll never play WoW unless you can simply teleport from store to XP and back effortlessly, all of which some doorknob or other screamed about during alpha.)

Paladin

Pedi played a human paladin for a few levels, and I got a dwarf paladin up to level 30 between the dwarf push and the final all-alliance push at the end. While some folks in the alpha test found the paladin to be a little unexciting about the warrior, I really, really liked this class, so much so that I intend to play a human paladin in the beta test until such time as dwarf hunters become available.

EQ paladins and D&D players will recognize paladins as being a hybrid of healer and melee, but in WoW, the slant is much more towards melee than healer, and they have a large number of unique abilities. For starters, they have the ability to cast buffs (seals) on a target. Each target can only have one seal cast on them at a time per paladin, so having multiple paladins in a group is by no means redundant. These seals do things like raise melee damage, raise melee damage versus undead even more, regenerate mana faster (yes, WoW’s Breeze equivalent is a paladin buff), lower aggro, create a temporary Divine Aura shield around someone, transfer part of melee damage taken to the paladin, and so on. These are some of the best buffs in the game, and the most combat-focussed.

Paladins also get auras that affect everyone in the group. A paladin can only maintain one aura at a time so, again, having multiple paladins is a good thing, although there are fewer choices for auras than there are seals. Auras raise armor class, provide a damage shield, improve resistances, or regenerate health faster during downtime. (The latter isn’t that amazing, since food and water refill health and mana quite quickly, and a smart player has a bag full.)

The class only gets a few combat moves to use during combat, as opposed to warriors and rogues, who are button-pushing like crazy the whole time. They get a bigger strike with their weapon (with a moderate cooldown period), an instant cast stun and an effect they can stack on an enemy that makes their Holy Strike do more damage. They also have some anti-undead spells, including an anti-undead fear spell and the ability to track the undead, which is immensely useful when questing in Duskwood.

The class is also a decent healer, although without the mana pool of the priest or even the shaman (note that paladins and shamans can never group together, since paladins are Alliance-only and shamans are Horde-only). They serve as decent back-up healers, although I’ve heard of people who worked on their mana pool and were competent enough main healers. I’d still rather have a priest, though. Paladins are also one of the three classes we had access to that could resurrect a player. Like shamans, a paladin resurrection brings back the target at 1 percent health and mana. If you do a combat rez on a paladin, the subject will be dead again in a second when they get low health aggro. (In contrast, a priest brings targets back to life with 15 percent health and mana. And yes, there is such a thing as rez sickness in WoW.)

Even without super-duper uber gear (most of my stuff was from quests or drops, with a few things I smithed in the final push of alpha), I found the paladin to be a very capable soloer and great in groups as both a main tank and as DPS. While not as sexy as rogues (don’t be surprised if rogues are THE most popular class in the game) or warriors, I found it to be really enjoyable, and there was a quiet but sizable group that preferred them over all other classes.

If you play a paladin in beta, consider either going a DPS-heavy route with talents and gear, or hit point-heavy. If you go the latter route, note that you only have two tools available to you for gaining aggro (Holy Strike and the Fist of Justice stun) and you might have trouble retaining aggro in groups. I went DPS-heavy and it took Pedi getting her mage into the late 20s before she was able to pull aggro off my admittedly pretty tired weaponry. I went all two-handed hammer, but if I had to do it over, I’d have keep my skills up in one handed mace and shield as well, for times where I couldn’t take the hardcore beating some bosses, particularly elite bosses, dish out. You can spend two skill points (gained one per level, and used on weapon skills or tradeskills) to learn how to use swords or two-handed swords, but other than just having the ability to switch back and forth, I didn’t really see a lot of value in it. And, you know, Uther used a two-handed hammer.

As for tradeskills, mining/smithing is a great combo for self-reliant paladins.

Mage

Pedi played a dwarven mage to level 30, starting at their highest point, during dwarf push. I got one to 20 during their lowest point, the push right after, undead push. That sort of provides a nice snapshot for what’s been going on with the class: extensive balancing and tweaking. When Pedi started, mages were pretty close to an uber class, and the ease with which they could kill caster NPCs in particular was nothing short of awesome. When I played my mage, a lot of those offending spells were either removed, or retired for retuning, and I also got the extra love of undead area content that incorrectly had things 100 percent immune to frost spells, which are about a third of the mage’s arsenal (and the best third). In the final push of alpha, mages got a bunch of new spells, including some really awesome ones (expect Amplify Magic and Dampen Magic to be shamelessly stolen by other MMORPGs), but the class isn’t quite there yet. Expect some more tinkering before Blizzard is done. (The priest went through the same process earlier, though, and is now one of the most powerful and versatile classes, after being the class that NO ONE wanted to play previously.)

The class is a versatile one, with bolts, instant cast nukes (with cool down timers, don’t get too excited), various AoEs and even an AoE damage over time spell (your targets catch on fire, and flames lick about their body for the duration). They also summon food and water (used to restore food and mana during downtime), can teleport between capital cities of their faction, turn invisible, open locked objects, have a variety of buffs and, generally, are a pretty neat class. In some ways, though, they were too good, which is why Polymorph (turn the subject into a pig, chicken or sheep, reduce damage output and prevent spellcasting) is on a vacation for retuning. Ditto their super-root, Chains of Ice.

At this point, the class most closely resembles an EQ mage without the pet, although this could certainly change as quickly as the first patch of the beta. Mages do get pets, both water elementals at higher levels and EQ sword/mace style pets that look like little smudgy ghosts at lower levels.

If you play a mage the first portion of beta, expect things to change, but change for the better. It’s a fun class right now, but it’s not quite up to the level of the other classes … yet.

As far as assigning talent points go, there are folks who think that stamina and hit points are all that matter. You should know better, since mages need mana more than anything. This is especially true now since they get a new Mana Shield spell that converts mana to hit points at a 3:1 ratio. Pedi’s level 30 mage, with her whopping 2k+ mana pool, can now take the hits almost as well as my level 30 paladin can with his Divine Shield up (like Divine Aura from EverQuest, but you can do anything you normally would with it on). For tradeskills, herbalism/alchemy fits like a glove, although some folks prefer herbalism/enchanting or tailoring instead.

Warlock

I played warlocks off and on during the undead and tri-Horde (troll, orc, tauren) pushes. They’re fun, but not my cup of tea. Here’s the basics, though:

While mages use fire, frost and arcane magic, warlocks are the masters of fire and shadow magic. In addition to a few nukes, they have dots, can chew their hit points for health like an EQ shaman, can summon other players like an EQ mage’s Call of Hero, get a horse pet (nightmare) at level 40, and oh yes, they summon pets.

Warlock pets (imps, voidwalkers, succubi, fel hounds and infernals) each can be trained with different spells and abilities as you level up, and (barring a bug) will have the same abilities next time you summon them. Imps are trash-talking little buffers and nukers, voidwalkers are tank pets, succubi are rogues who can learn to mez, and fel hounds and infernals weren’t available in the alpha push, being higher level pets. (If you play the undead, you can go to the circle of summoning in the mage quarter of the Undercity to see an NPC warlock instructor summon all the pets, one after another.)

Warning: Every horny no-girlfriend dude who doesn’t play a night elf mangina (more about them later) will play a warlock once they’ve seen the succubus. You’ve been warned.

The class is quite versatile, and was reasonably popular for the three pushes it was available. If it gets changed, look for it to be powered up a bit.

Talents and tradeskills for warlocks are similar to those for mages, except the fact that they can chew their health to give back mana also means bumping up Stamina and hit points makes a lot of sense.

Vashanti leveled up something like 20 different warlock tailors, so he can tell you more about them.


1 Comment »

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    Comment by klaus riskær — April 29, 2020 @ 15:01

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