Alex: Vashj'ir is blow-your-mind beautiful. I love World of Warcraft's alien zones more than anything else -- places like Zangarmarsh, Netherstorm, and Deepholm. The ocean, in the real world, is pretty alien-seeming place. Have you seen the animals they discover down there? So weird! Blizzard captured that feeling. It is deep and wild and bright and beautiful and it's something you've never seen before in your life. You go deeper and it's dark and foreboding and intimidating. I love it.
Mathew: Cohesiveness is something Blizzard does especially well with art design and there is no shortage of it in Vashj'ir. From start to finish, top to bottom, Vashj'ir is an interesting, alien, vibrant place that captures the essence of the deep seas and insurmountable danger. Nothing feels better than getting lost in the atmosphere in an MMO, and I got completely lost (the good kind) in Vashj'ir.
What worked, what didn't?
Alex: The three-dimensional movement is always going to be a problem. Not just in World of Warcraft, but in games. I'm obviously no scientist, but it seems like the human mind just doesn't agree with that sort of movement. You can make it easier on a person, but it still isn't going to be great. Those of you that played Crysis, who actually liked the section where you're floating/flying around? It sucks. I can handle those sections of gameplay better than most, I rarely got lost in Vashj'ir, but it still made some very simple tasks a chore.
I thought the story of the zone was very cool until we got to the point where we were in a submarine. I know Warcraft has had submarines since the very beginning, but they're still a pretty weird concept, and I don't think they've been integrated into WoW very well. Specifically, the entire sequence was core to advancing the plot of Vashj'ir, and it was all one big splotch of comedy relief. Comedy relief is best used when alongside the serious core plot, not as a replacement for the core plot. C-3PO didn't fight Darth Vader. Apparently the joke draenei sea captain does. In his submarine.
Neptulon would have been cool, and it was in Vashj'ir, but now I'm just disappointed about that since Blizzard isn't following up on it. The Neptulon story arc has been building since The Burning Crusade with Skar'this the Heretic, but now they just threw it out? Disappointing, Blizzard. I would have taken a conclusion to that story over a second visit from Ragnaros any day.
As always, it's easier to lay out what I didn't like more than what I liked. What you like is usually taken for granted and you don't realize they're there -- strong story, strong quest flow, all of that sort of thing. My overall thoughts on Vashj'ir are a bit odd: I did it once, I loved it, it's solidified in my head as one of the best questing experiences in World of Warcraft. However, I never want to go there again. It requires so much more effort and dedication to get through than Hyjal that going to Vashj'ir is kind of punishing yourself, no matter how good it is.
Oh ... and it's kind of weird that there are mailboxes at the bottom of the ocean. I mean, I know why they're there, a zone without mailboxes sucks. It's just weird. Who delivers the mail down there? Does the Azerothian mail service have submarines, too?
Mathew: I'm with Alex on the "it's easier to find the things I didn't like over the things I did like." I hated the travel, mostly, especially in 3D water-space. That part isn't necessarily the problem, but coupled with the fact that every quest hub is set inside a cave, and the map is a two-dimensional construct, I would get turned around all the time looking for the entrance to the cave where I had to turn in my quests. This was particularly annoying when I was in the last part of the zone and accidentally went into the opposite factions' cove because I wasn't paying attention and died. It was a long swim back.
What ultimately worked about Vashj'ir is that Blizzard pulled out all the unconventional story stops. You were fighting a losing battle. The zone ramped up over time and didn't peter out. Players were put into various perspectives. The factions felt like they belonged in Vashj'ir. We helped out some pretty important and old entities. We saved our men. Ultimately, the story led into the Abyssal Maw and Neptulon's "defeat" of Ozumat, which left the zone with a cliffhanger. I just want to see more.
Alex: Battlemaiden. It was a fantastic way to see and meet your enemies. It was like the quests in Icecrown where you got to play as Arthas -- those were the best quests in that expansion. Kicking Illidan's ass as the Lich King? Heck yeah. Battlemaiden did it even better.
The sheer scale of the zone was cool too. Whale shark, anybody? You were completely insignificant compared to some of the sea life you had to work around. These weren't just structures, either. The structures in Uldum are massive and that's cool, but the whale shark was a living (well, virtually living) thing that you had to avoid and navigate around.
Mathew: Battlemaiden, of course. I think Blizzard really hit on something with the Battlemaiden quests that engaged the player in a very interesting and different way. The sleeper hit quests of Wrath were the "play as Arthas" quests, and I'm glad that that form of storytelling wasn't forgotten. Does this mean every zone should have these quests? No.
Another standout moment of Vashj'ir for me was the entire beginning naga assault and the rearming of your troops. These were men and women in desperate times. Ships sunk, people were lost, and no help was coming. When you finally make it far enough into the zone where you get to ascend to surface and fire off your signal flare, you realize that you haven't seen the surface for a long time. When you finally do surface, you're in the middle of NOWHERE. That feeling of disorientation was perfectly well executed to me. I truly felt like I was under the water, desperately trying to find a way out alive.
Next time, Alex and Mat will be discussing Deepholm, the realm of the earth elementals.
Dont forget to check out our other Cataclysm zone post-mortem articles:
The news is already rolling out for the upcoming WoW Patch 4.2! Preview the new Firelands raid, marvel at the new legendary staff, and get the inside scoop on new quest hubs -- plus new Tier 12 armor!