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Cataclysm Post-Mortem: Deepholm

Alex Ziebart and Mathew McCurley (that's me) decided to give each Cataclysm zone the once-over now that we're many months out from the release of the expansion. In this post-mortem series, we'll examine what worked and what didn't work in terms of story, quests, and overall feel for the zones and the cool moments that dotted the landscape.

The Earthen Plane. Therazane's domain. The place where primordial rock and earth and stone were banished after the Titans subdued the elemental lords and their Old God masters. Deepholm is where Deathwing laid his broken body and waited, watched, heaved, and went mad. In the center of the mighty plane of earth stood the World Pillar, the only support keeping Deepholm from crashing into Azeroth itself. When Deathwing unleashed himself upon the world, the World Pillar shattered. Only through the tireless and diligent efforts of the Earthen Ring, shaman from all walks of life and races, could the tear in the Maelstrom be contained. Now flooded by members of the Twilight's Hammer cult, a raging war between earthen and trogg, and the harshness of the Stonemother herself, the Horde and the Alliance must find a way to restore the World Pillar and save Azeroth from the very plane of earth it rests upon.

Deepholm was the first bottleneck zone after the two opening Cataclysm leveling experiences, Hyjal and Vashj'ir. Everyone passed through Deepholm on the way to 85, getting to experience one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring zones ever created for World of Warcraft. From the rocks that hung eerily in the air to the various factions and allegiances, Deepholm provided one of the most unique leveling experiences in World of Warcraft to date.

A story of stone and anguish

Mat: I rather enjoyed the story in Deepholm. What was interesting to me was the way you got to choose which sections of the story to complete. You had a choice between the first and second World Pillar fragments that ultimately led to the third and finally getting a little friendly with Therazane's bunch. The only problem with this bottleneck, in terms of the story, was that you do not have any opportunity to get to Therazane and start working on the reputation before having completed almost two-thirds of the zone. I wanted to be able to bust into Deepholm with alts and get that tabard ASAP, to no avail.

The Therazane story was interesting because she just wanted the players out. This was her domain, and she wanted to keep it that way. Only through perseverence and the sympathy of one of her lieutenants could you find yourself in her good graces. The Earthen Ring stories that continued on, like Goldmine the goblin shaman, gave a sense of scale to the Earthen Ring's operation. And, of course, there is nothing like the first trip into the Maelstrom riding with Aggra and seeing the Temple of Earth for the first time.

Also intriguing was that Deepholm was its own, self-contained zone. The story begins and ends in Deepholm, and you leave the savior. Even though Maruut is dead, the Earthen Ring not only scored a great victory for them but gained an ally in Therazane and a wonderful relationship with the earth elementals they so desperately need to call upon in the fight against Deathwing.

Alex: In this case, my opinions mostly mirror Mat's. I really enjoyed the Deepholm experience and thought the story was really solid, though it does have a point in the middle somewhere that just seems to drag on and on.

The one thing that bugged me about Deepholm's story is Maruut as a leader in the Earthen Ring. He doesn't do anything visible the whole time you're there. He talks to you over a magical radio over the course of three or four quests, but he more or less stands in the middle of the zone doing nothing. He has no real characterization, nothing to build him up as a person, so when you get to the climax of the zone and Maruut is slain ... who cares? I mean, really?

Other shaman in the zone (Earthcaller Torunscar, Earthmender Norsala, and Initiate Goldmine, to name a few) all have distinct personalities, and you interact with them in a meaningful way. One of them making a sacrifice in the end would have had some punch. But Maruut? Meh. Whatever. An otherwise great zone was capped off with an entirely meaningless sacrifice that was meant to be a punch in the gut but didn't really matter at all.

Questing in the earthen plane

Alex: Deepholm's questing experience was, I thought, very good with a few exceptions. Everything you did in the zone felt meaningful and contributed to the overall narrative of the zone. There was never a point where you were doing filler quests because some guy wanted a sandwich and you needed to bake bread and slice turkey for him. Even when you were sent off in a collection quest, it was for something that contributed to furthering the cause in Deepholm. I was a big fan of that.

However, Deepholm was also partially nonlinear in a way that perhaps felt like a detriment. There were parts of the zone where you could go to one hub before another, but ultimately you had to do all of the parts before advancing to the final arc of the story. Nonlinear content can be fun! It has been done very well in WoW! The problem is none of those pieces of non-linearity felt like meaningful progression. While collecting the three fragments of the World Pillar, all of the other quests felt like sub-quests.
  • First Fragment: 0/1
  • Second Fragment: 0/1
  • Third Fragment: 0/1
All the quests that fell under those were hoops to jump through. Maybe if the objectives were more meaningful than glorified quest items? Maybe if you were recruiting an army instead of collecting rocks?

That being said, I still enjoyed the zone and those quests. The airship quests were, for example, totally awesome as an Alliance player. First Mate Moody is hardcore. It's just that, as awesome as the pieces were, the payoff always felt so far away and not particularly cool.

Mat: My first experience of Deepholm was better than my subsequent playthroughs of the zone -- quite the opposite experience than with my Hyjal trips. The Therazane faction was the cause of my ire, due to the fact that you must complete two of the three fragments of the World Pillar before even gaining access to Therazane, the faction, and most importantly, the tabard. All I wanted from Deepholm was the Therazane tabard on my alts.

The first playthrough was awesome. I loved the branching quest design and the ability to choose which areas of the zone to focus on first. Each of the three main questing areas felt like they had their own worlds to explore and own problems to solve. There was a wonderful sense of careful world-building going on in Deepholm that I greatly admired.

That being said, the subsequent playthroughs were slogs that I detested. Maybe that is a hard word to use. I did not detest the questing or the story but the experience of having to do it. I just wanted my tabard for my alts. I just wanted to quickly move to Uldum. The cramped, claustrophobic caverns of Deepholm made me want out more than once.

A beautiful zone

Alex: I make it no secret that I love the alien, otherworldly zones in Warcraft far more than the ones that try to integrate some sort of realism. I'll take Zangarmarsh and Netherstorm over Howling Fjord or Nagrand any day, though I don't consider the latter two ugly by any means. They just strike me as boring.

So yes, Deepholm is absolutely beautiful, I thought. I love the color palette, the animated stones, the pulsing pillars, and the little bits of life infused into what should be just rocks. Your first time visiting Therazane's throne makes you gape in awe at the pure beauty of the place, in a realm that you would expect to be nothing but ugly dirt and gravel.

One of my favorite spots in the zone is the little cliff tucked away next to the marsh of quicksilver. The mercury is flowing slowly down the cliffside, forming puddles and drip-dripping the whole way down. There aren't any mobs over there and it's a bit secluded, so it's a cool place to fly to and just ... sit there.

Deepholm also introduces us to the gyreworm, which is probably the coolest model added in this expansion. It's something truly different. Sure, it's based off of the snake skeleton we've been seeing in the game for years, but the series of rings added a new twist to it far more interesting than Drake With Spikes or Stone Giant With a Beard. Those look nice, yeah, but they're lipstick on a pig. A very old pig. The gyreworm was a completely new take on snakes.

Mat: Deepholm's art direction was superb. When you fly around and those rocks just explode and hang in mid-air as if the earth just doesn't work the same down in this plane, it really takes you back. Somehow, Deepholm became the second most colorful zone behind Vashj'ir just from the number of gem colors Blizzard threw in. Therazane's seat is gorgeous and reminds me heavily of that cave in Un'Goro crater where you first learn of the Titan pylons and the crystals that power them.

I agree with Alex wholeheartedly -- the gyreworms were really cool. However, I loved Nagrand, so we will have to have a fight to the death at BlizzCon this year. Deepholm was the most otherworldly of the new zones to me, almost Outland-esque, and I liked that.

This might not be an art direction-related concern, but I absolutely hated a lot of the voice acting in Deepholm minus two standout characters in Lorthuna and Stormcaller Mylra and her ogre buddy. Earthcaller Torunscar and, I believe, Earthmender Norsala just sounded weird. I don't know -- I just wasn't impressed when the rest of the zones have such fantastic voicing.

Standout moments

Mat: The grand battle at the end over the Temple of Earth was spectacular and fun. The scenery and world building, really, was the standout part of Deepholm for me. Three very distinct stories intersecting and bringing out the sheer massiveness of Deepholm made my adventurers in the earth realm a positive experience. You know, the first time.

Alex: Three words: High Priestess Lorthuna. I am absolutely in love with that NPC, and she has some of the best voice acting in the entire expansion. Not gonna lie, I could listen to her all day.

Next time, Alex and Mat will be discussing Uldum, lost land of the Titans.

Don't forget to check out our other Cataclysm zone post-mortem articles:

Filed under: Cataclysm

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