World of Warcraft has a few qualities, which shouldn’t be surprising since it’s still the most played MMORPG out there. For me, two are very noticeable- the fluid gameplay/combat/movement and the second one, the world/zone building. It’s not only the graphics and Blizzards ability to get the most out of their decade-old-engine that WoW still looks good- it’s because of the zone design. So i decided to start a “backpacker” series for that. It’s easy to do, too, since you can play World of Warcraft for free up to level 20. After some research, i came to the conclusion that a Druid would work best, what with the travel form and such. It might be possible to explore zones much further into the level bracket when playing this class.
I don’t know where this plan is going to lead me- maybe even into a subscription, but if i’m honest, the last times i started playing WoW, the questing got to me. It’s always the questing- with Rift, Lord of the Rings and WoW. While Rift has decent alternatives to level a character, i don’t think one could say the same for WoW. Sure, there are dungeons and they’re great experiences- but i wouldn’t know why i should play the instanced part of the game to experience the open world. And questing is slow. Exploration doesn’t seem to be rewarded with xp, so leveling through exploration and crafting/gathering is not a good alternative. So you’ve got questing, pvp, pet battles, gathering and dungeons as ways to level.
Gathering could work. But it would take a lot of time, too much for me, even when i could combine it with grinding mobs.
Anyway, the possibility to level a character to 20 without paying gives me the option to travel through quite a few zones. I’ve always been an Alliance player, so i’ll use a Nightelf Druid for this, even if that means i’ll be starting on the wrong continent. I think i can leave for Stormwind come level 10 (already there, but haven’t looked if i can take the ship over there).
So let’s take a look. I don’t really know how long this lasts, but WoW’s zones are believable to me, and that’s the great advantage. In Lotro, for instance, the third zone you’ll play in will consist of one village/inn and some ruins as homesteads for people. I don’t know why these people don’t build and seem to be content in their ruins, but it strikes me as odd. In WoW, which i didn’t experience a whole lot (until Un’Goro in TBC’s time), the zones leading up to Un’Goro seem…well, despite it being a fantastic, sometimes odd world, it seems more “civilized”. I mean, villages look like villages.
Look at that- that’s where your life as a nightelf begins- it might not be exactly as big, but the whole layout is similar to the faction capital of the Guardians in Rift, Sanctum. I’d like to highlight that i don’t want to devalue Rift by stating this, but simply to state how much i like these sort of things. And it’s an exaggeration, of course. Sanctum is still bigger than Shadowglen’s center.
Another thing that i didn’t remember – and that might change later on – is that World of Warcraft really is generous with space/landscape. In other, more modern games, mob density is quite high- it’s for the sake of accessibility, of course, so that you don’t have to search for the mob you need for a quest or compete with other players for the same mobs, but if you look at zone design from that perspective only, what remains is a functional map. When you leave room for all kinds of things- villages, wildlife, trees, the odd cavern, rivers, lakes and whathaveyou- the zone looks and feels a whole lot more believable.
WoW’s zone design always impressed me. Sure, i like my fantasy worlds even more “open”, even less “zoney” and not as “themepark-styled” (thinking about the “haunted house zone” for levels 20 to 30), but there are few games providing that- the last one i know was Vanguard, which had a great world albeit with its own flaws. Other games are good, as well- Rift and Lotro’s worlds are open, and especially Lotro offers great landscapes that still hold themselves very good in terms of graphics, Final Fantasy 14’s zones are of a very good design, as well, but they feel quite small.