So this is a post about World of Warcraft. Specifically, the zone Vashj’ir, one of the new zones added in the new Cataclysm expansion. I’ll warn you up front. I’m gonna spoil the shit out of the storyline of the zone, and also it’s gonna get real nerdy all up in here pretty quickly. So if either of those bothers you, you should probably just stop reading now.
All set? If you’re still with me, then here we go. First, let me just say that there’s no way I’m going to remember how to spell Vashj’ir, plus that name is really awful anyhow, so from here on out I’m going to call the place Underwaterworld. As my new name implies the entire zone is in fact underwater.
First, let me say what I liked about the zone. Although I have one huge issue with it (that I will nit-pick more in detail in a bit) the initial storyline of the zone, which deals with rescuing the survivors of a shipwreck, is pretty engaging. Also, I loved my sea horse mount. And The Brothers Digsong side quests were hilarious. That’s kind of it.
Now, on to the meat of things–what I didn’t like. The underwater gimmick itself is fun for awhile, but very quickly the hassles of 3D fighting make the whole thing more frustrating than it’s worth. Now instead of just worrying about being at the proper range, you now have to figure out if your dude is on the right plane to attack a mob. Thankfully, you spend a lot of your time on the sea floor anyhow, so this hassle is minimized. Furthermore, I’m the absolute shits at thinking spatially. I have a hard enough time imagining where things are in relation to other things when working with just two dimensions–adding a third just made my head hurt.
As I said, the initial quests revolve around rescuing the survivors of a shipwreck. This is fairly engaging and mostly well done–except for the fact that this is not a level in a single player game, it’s a zone in a multi-player persistent world. So these poor, shipwrecked people inexplicably have underwater flight masters connecting them to other places in the zone (in some cases, connecting one cave they’re using to the one they’re going to move to later in the story!) These are also connected to a flight master on the surface, who will let you fly back to the city of Stormwind where you started! So what’s the problem again? These poor folk are stranded down here? I guess they just don’t have money for the sea taxi! I understand that this is a game design choice, but for me it absolutely broke the suspension of disbelief. It’s the kind of thing that’d work really well in a single player game, but seems ridiculous in a persistent world setting.
The real meat of my beef with this level, though, doesn’t start until the people are all rescued. While you go about the business of playing the hero and helping these poor shipwrecked people, you of course come across some clues to a bigger mystery. Part of these clues lead you to undergo some crazy vision quest thing, where you enter into the memories of one of the naga who are currently up to no good down here at the bottom of the sea. Blizzard tries to make this interactive rather than just making you sit still and watch a 20 minute cut-scene. This was a good idea, but the problem is that the “be a naga and go do naga things” bits felt like a huge sidetrack. Worse, it takes away my character, (the guy I’ve spent countless days leveling up 1 – 80+) and replaces him with another, completely unrelated character I know nothing and care nothing about. Worse, the thing is minimally interactive, since you start the first naga bit with a grand total of one button to push.
The entire reason for these naga bits is so you’ll eventually learn the secret of what the naga are doing down here. But you spend probably 45 minutes of game time as this naga character in these memory/flashback things, and you learn precisely dick-all about what the naga are doing until the very end of the last vision. And even then, the big reveal is muted by the fact that unless you’re very steeped in your World of Warcraft lore, you’re going to need the NPC to explain it to you later anyhow. So the entire thing just seems like a pointless waste of time, a great chunk of wasted time and effort during which you don’t even get to play your own character! Perhaps worse, though, is that while you’re doing these stupid naga quests, you’re still gaining XP for your character. So I actually leveled from 81 to 82 as a naga during a flashback. That struck me as exceedingly lame.
Once you rescue all the shipwreck people, you’re given a chance to bail on this storyline. If, like me, you gamely soldier on, you’re sent back down to the depths to continue fighting the naga. Because, as it turns out, what the naga are up to is trying to punch Neptulon in the face. Of course, they’re just a bunch of naga, so they have no real shot at taking on an Elemental Lord. But you discovered at the very end of the very last naga vision bit that they have enlisted the aid of an Old God who has sent his minions to help the naga out. Of course, you probably didn’t actually discover that yourself–the NPC told you about it later, you just stood around all confused during that final naga bit, not knowing what was going on.
Well, as it turns out, the good guys don’t want Neptulon getting punched in the face, so we all set to work making sure it doesn’t happen. There’s a whole lot of quests that don’t seem to advance the story much, then finally, the big fight occurs! Hooray, finally I get to be a valiant warrior and fight alongside an Elemental Lord to crush the combined forces of the naga and the old god!
Hahaha, no. That’s not what happens! Here’s what really happens. You watch a giant cutscene. Then the game lets you run your character a few feet, and fight an elite mob for about fifteen seconds. Then a super-powerful NPC gets bored and destroys all the mobs, and you run some more. Then you stop and fight more elite mobs, only AGAIN the NPC jumps in and finishes the fight before you get to actually do much of anything. Finally, you get to the final fight! Neptulon rises from the deep, and the battle is joined!
Except you don’t get to participate! This final bit is all done in cut-scene, so you just watch as the NPCs lose the goddamn fight and leave you standing all by yourself in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a burning sense of outrage at how fucking cheated you feel. You’re seriously left to just stand there wondering why you bothered wasting your time with this shit. Everything you did was apparently in vain. The naga apparently win, Neptulon vanishes (probably to be freed in a later raid) and all you can do is try to rescue one of the NPCs who was captured in the final fight (but this requires running a 5 man dungeon.)
It’s complete bullshit. I don’t even get a say in what happens, I’m forced to fail, and somehow I’m supposed to feel good about this? Worse, Blizzard managed to get this so wrong while at the same time getting the storyline for the other Cataclysm starting zone, Mount Hyjal, so very right. Everything that’s bad about Underwaterworld is fixed in Mount Hyjal. There, I felt like an integral part of the storyline–my actions made a difference, I was never scripted to fail, I never had control taken away from me in key situations, and I got to fucking WIN in the end! Sure, it’s a muted victory, since you know the bad guy you defeated will be back. But I at least got to defeat him momentarily! I got to participate! I didn’t just stand there and watch the NPCs fight and lose.
So screw you Blizzard. Scripted failure sucks.