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Vashj'ir (28/7/10)

I knew it would come down to lore. Here goes:

Once a proud Highborne city and home to some of the most revered Elves of Kalimdor, Vashj’ir was engulfed by the Great Sea in the Sundering and thought to be lost.

The conceited elven queen Azshara, leader of the Highborne, survived the crushing depths when the Well of Eternity imploded, though her escape came at a great price as she and many of her fellow Highborne were twisted to become the grotesque Naga. Hearing the elements’ distress, the Earthen Ring has recently learned of Queen Azshara’s naga intent to sieze Vashj’ir for their own malevolent purposes.

Vash’jir is a level 78-82 zone wherein players will be called to explore the depths of the Great Sea and stop the naga from acquiring an immense source of power from the realm of Neptulon, the Tidehunter. This area will also hold two new five-player dungeons, Throne of the Tides and the Abyssal Maw – and the first-ever opportunity to explore the drowned ruins of that once-majestic city.

To get there – and this took me some time to find (we’ve discussed my disdain for directions already) – the horde must board a mercenary ship from the new docks south of Orgrimmar. The Alliance can find their vessel at the docks north of Stormwind.

Unfortunately, the beta is currently missing an important cut scene or event that leads to the capsizing of your ship. For now, you’re treated with a loading screen before finding yourself in an air pocket inside the boat at the bottom of the ocean. You’re in an area known as Legion’s Fate, itself within the Kelp Forest. This is where your questing begins.

The first quest, assigned by the Earthen Ring, is a simple gathering quest that nets you a new ability, Sea Legs. This ability allows you to breathe underwater and increases your aquatic movement speed by 60 percent – feeling like the Usain Bolt of Highlanders. It’s an interesting mechanic.

Donning my proverbial Steve Zissou beanie, I noted the depth of the work that has gone into the aquatic environment. The abundant ocean life is cleverly hidden amongst the pulsing, swaying seabed vegetation and when I found myself swimming or running through the thick kelp, it was with a claustrophobic twitch and a sense of being hunted.

This was confirmed when I looked up to discover a monstrous boss level whale shark circling the area. The sea floor is teeming with life and the environment itself plays a huge role as you quest amongst sunken ships, large kelp forests and dry underwater caves.

By and large, this first quest hub concerns itself with the immediate well-being of your fellow travellers: Arming your men, slowing the naga as they attempt to hunt you down and salvaging food and equipment.

As you make your way through the main quest arc of this zone – though side quests are abundant – you must find yourself a worthy underwater mount. Playing “naga rodeo” will go down as a highlight. This final quest, which leads you into the next zone and the main story arc of Vash’jir, is currently having phase tech bug issues and cannot be completed. A shame.

The underwater experience has been mixed. The idea of questing and playing through an entire zone underwater is new and has been implemented well. You’ll enjoy if only for its point of difference and it is a beautiful and detailed area to explore. Given that I usually play on PvP servers (we’re playing on the PvP PTR, also) my only real worry comes from other players.

I was playing as a melee class and every four to five minutes minutes I would be put back on the hook by a ranged player on the opposing faction – usually another level 82 Warlock with 52,000 hit points.

Like the raid mechanics for Malygos in Wrath of the Lich King, navigating a 3D space in the midst of a difficult fight isn’t a whole lot of fun. Ranged classes looking for some world PvP are at a particular advantage in Vashj’ir.

I’ll be back with more on Vashj’ir very soon. We’ll also try to take a look at the Throne of the Tides, the five player dungeon in the area. Stay tuned.

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If there’s anything you’d like to hear about, just let us know in the comments and we’ll bring back whatever information we can, testing conditions pending, obviously!

Click through the pages below to find earlier entries in Gameplanet's Cataclysm beta Diary.

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