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Mount Hyjal (14/7/10)

Casting an eye over the World of Warcraft map, there’s very few zones that stack up to Hyjal in the lore stakes. In the centre of the zone lies a poorly protected puddle of infinitesimal arcane energy called the Well of Eternity, above which stands a not-at-all discrete “World Tree,” soaring thousands of feet into the sky. Yes, it’s as pivotal as it sounds.

Were you an uninformed nefarious force gazing covetously upon Azeroth from beyond the aether and wondering just where to begin your attack, you’d almost certainly spot that conspicuous, ridiculous arrangement and say to yourself, “Shit, I bet that’s important.”

And you’d be right. Suspend belief then, when I tell you that Deathwing the Destroyer (guess what he does) and Ragnaros, the elemental lord of fire, have decided that an assault Mount Hyjal and the World Tree is just the ticket.

Between Ragnaros and the World Tree stand the Night Elves led by Malfurion Stormrage, the Tauren led by Hamuul Runetotem, the Dragon Aspect Ysera and you, brave experience grinder.

The zone is something of an essay in Blizzard’s new approach to questing. You’ll begin by speaking with Ysera, who’ll set the scene described above. Thereafter your experience will be largely sequential. There are far more items in the zone’s major quest chain than there are optional side-quests. As a result, you’ll be spending most of your time uncovering and advancing the story of Ragnaros’ assault.

You’re still charged with quests conforming to the “Go here, perform this task and let me know how you get on” template. But there’s no avoiding that. Besides, as you advance through Hyjal you’ll see your actions triggering lesser and greater phases, all of them seamlessly introduced without even the faintest suggestion of a load. It makes questing a much more focused, much more compelling and rewarding affair – even if you’re occasionally sent back to Ysera for a chat while the game, like a poor magician, phases the hub you’ve just cleaned up. “Hey, what’s that over there!? ...Alright, you can look again, now.”

A note on the quest rewards: We’re playing with premade characters wearing tier 10.5 and all the trimmings. Within moments of making landfall in Hyjal, we were being offered green levelling items that outpaced our free raiding gear.

It’s always a bittersweet experience when an expansion comes out, knowing that the gear you’ve worked so long and diligently to acquire will become outmoded, that Kevin Casual will soon be on an equal footing with Henry Hardcore (and knowing that it’ll happen again in future expansions: Turn that wheel, hamster), but we were taken aback at quite how quickly Cataclysm broke our set bonuses. If memory serves, we were still using pieces of Black Temple gear at or around level 78 in Northrend.

Onwards: If you care to, you can visit any number of dedicated World of Warcraft sites and discover how the zone is broken down, quest by quest. For ourselves, we’ll only share the stage as half the enjoyment is discovering the story – and your part in it – for yourself.

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

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