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Starting zones (19/7/10)

I started with the human levelling experience. You’re thrown into the new mix right away as an ever self-satisfied Varian Wrynn stands outside Northshire Abbey. I jogged up sycophantically, ready to introduce myself to the king, and was quickly humbled. “Head out and kill some kobolds,” he deigned. Clearly things are taking care of themselves at Stormwind Keep if he’s slumming around down here instructing poorly attired keyboard-turners?

But every bit helps. Northshire Valley has undergone some changes, not phase tech changes (though we can assume Wrynn exists within a phase) – just the regular world altering variety. The once Defias-overrun vineyard is now ablaze and Blackrock Orcs, using a newly formed entrance from the Burning Steppes, prowl the wreckage.

So it is that Orcs have replaced The Defias Brotherhood as the mince for your human levelling grind.

While the Dwarf starting zone of Coldridge valley hasn’t had so much visual reconstruction you’ll quickly understand that things have changed. Early quests explain that recent earthquakes have forced the local Troggs out of their underground caverns and as a result they’re attacking the Dwarves en masse, forcing the doughty folk into the safety of Anvilmar where they’ve holed up.

Once the early quests, generally concerned with bolstering Anvilmar’s supplies and clearing off some of the encroaching Troggs, are complete I was sent out to Whitebeard’s camp to see how he’s getting on with the Troll situation. After some quick reconnaissance you’ll discover that a fire elemental has used the recent crustal shifts to make his way up from the elemental planes and has joined with the trolls to take Coldridge Valley.

After Coldridge valley I took a brief look around the entrance to Gnomeragen. You’re unable to enter the city itself, but it looks as though the possible new Gnome starting area (at present Gnomes still start the same as Dwarves) is well underway. Large machines and friendly Gnomeragen soldiers patrol the area, though toxic green gas still billows from vents. Suffice to say, it’ll be interesting to see what happens here in the next few patches, and we’ll pop back to have a look.

Night elves, as far as I can tell, have no major changes in their initial levelling experience. With the massive changes to Darkshore maybe this is to be expected. Safely tucked away behind Darnassus Night Elves could well have to wait for later zones to experience the Cataclysm.

The Valley of Trials, the Orc starting area has seen a few changes. Some farms have popped up in the middle of the map. It makes clearing out warthogs in the first quest of feel a little odd: Walking into a fenced off area and clubbing some poor farmer’s livelihood hardly lets me feel like a big man-orc.

Humans have also started appearing in the area so a little clean out is required. Just outside the safety of the Valley, Durotar has transformed from an arid wasteland to a flooded plain burgeoning with life.

Further south, the trolls, led by Vol'jin, are busy fighting off the naga who occupied Darkspear Isle. But before you get to down to that, you'll need to prove your worth as a fighter. To do this, you'll be destroying target dummies and keeping the food stores safe from predators, before being thrown in the proving pit to fight "a real baddie."

Once you've proven yourself you move on to some busy work keeping future raptor mounts safe as babies, before getting on to the real task at hand and being sent to the frontline to help decimate the naga. Finally, you'll aid help Vol’jin killing the naga leader Zar'jira the Seawitch, boss level pokemon.

Deathknell, the Undead starting area, is largely unchanged – though this can all be taken with a grain of salt as this is a very early in beta testing. Quests have been altered to give them a fresh, relevant appeal. For example, you must now not only kill the Scarlet Crusade, you must also cannibalise their corpses.

Just outside Deathknell there is a new quest hub, Calston Estate, before you head into Brill.

The Tauren of Red Cloud mesa have been overwhelmed by invading Bristleboar who have turned the once-rolling plains into a scarred, charred and thistled battlefield. Early quests are now entirely centred on the “thornsnarl” where you will kill the invaders, steal their weapons and rescue those Tauren captured in the assault.

You can expect both environmental and narrative changes as you are asked, even in these early levels, to step up and quell the chaos caused by the cataclysm. Quest chains throw you right into the thick of the new world and though it is often a face value change from killing x to killing y it is important for new players to be involved and to feel relevant from the outset.

Not all the zones have the same amount of change, whether this is due to change or not is still to be seen. Moreover, it’s difficult to know just how much phasing tech is actually in play. With limited beta testing, quest resources are far from crowded. Expect that quest mobs in particular will involve phases – our fire elemental in Coldridge, for example.

That said, if you’re looking for a deep, rich levelling experience 1-12, at least for now, we recommend you begin planning that Goblin or Worgen.

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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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