This past weekend was prime time for leveling Alhazad the Paladin. Leveling through Thousand Needles and Tanaris, we encounter some of the more dramatic changes the Cataclysm has wrought.
Let’s cut to the quick, shall we? Hit Continue Reading to get the scoop.
Having finished Southern Barrens, it was suggested that I continue leveling in Dustwallow Marsh. Now, Dustwallow has not changed much in Cataclysm — truly, the zone was revamped not too long ago, as it was in dire need of work since its implementation in Classic. This revamp made the zone flow more smoothly and appear more cohesive, so I don’t fault the designers for not messing with a “good thing.”
However, that also means I’ve seen and done all that Dustwallow has to offer. And I did it a year ago. Knowing this, I opted to reroute myself and head to Feralas and finish off Levels 38+ to then properly enter Thousand Needles at Level 40.
Feralas, I’m delighted to say, has been revamped. However, I remained ahead of the leveling curve, and entering from Desolace presented me with quests better suited for Level 35. I completed these, just to see how the experience gain would be, and ended up moving fairly swiftly toward Level 40. So swiftly, I reached Level 40 at this very first encampment and did not need to quest onward through Feralas — I simply followed the road straight to Thousand Needles.
Reaching Thousand Needles at Level 40, I was on track for the design of the zone. Thousand Needles is a 40-45 zone. Immediately, you’re presented with the threat of the Grimtotem and how they’ve gone to war with the inhabitants of Thousand Needles (they’re also attacking a Night Elf settlement on the border of Feralas). More over, you see that Thousand Needles has been flooded, and the waters are now roughly sea-level.
I knew Thousand Needles was going to be flooded. It was one of the first reveals about Cataclysm, way back when it was announced. This should surprise no one. However, what I was unaware of was how Blizzard intended to make the area traversable. Even without the water, the zone is large and there is a lot of ground to cover — I’ve a few memories, some fond, some not so fond, of hiking from one end of Thousand Needles to the other, doing quests and mining ore.
I’m happy to report that Blizzard has done a good job overall with the zone. The Tauren have a greater presence here (thanks to their fondness for building atop bluffs), the Grimtotem threat is expanded upon, Pirates invade, the Twilight’s Hammer rears its ugly head, and the Shimmering Flats have given way to the Speedbarge — a floating town comprised of Goblin and Gnome technology. You are given a “River Boat” to speed your way about the zone, and also a Diving Kit that includes an inexhaustible supply of breathable air and the ability to swim more quickly and move more rapidly across the zone’s underwater floor.
There are a diverse number of quests, too. I half expected there to be a glut of underwater tasks, but I was relieved to find only a few requiring that you actually dive beneath the water’s surface. Mostly, you will only be diving down to mine for minerals — most herbs are located above water — and otherwise traveling on the surface with the aid of your River Boat.
My one disappointment with the zone is the guided storytelling that comes into play near the conclusion. It is again something that your character can easily object to, but you must go through with it to complete the story. This happened in Ashenvale, and later in Stonetalon Mountains.
You are tasked with freeing Magatha Grimtotem from her Twilight Hammer captors, as “having her in their hands would be worse than having her run loose.” That is debatable, but alright, I’ll run with it. Now, keep in mind that my character is a Tauren Sunwalker, someone who is good and just and fiercely devoted to the Tauren people as they are led by Baine, and by Cairne before him. And let’s not forget Magatha attempted a coup, slaughtered countless citizens of Thunder Bluff, and nearly became a tyrant. So! We free Magatha from her binds… and suddenly, she is ordering us around and having us play “go for” on a series of quests to cripple the Twilight’s Hammer.
The designers attempt to justify this by having Magatha’s motive be the saving of Thousand Needles from the Twilight’s Hammer, as they are certain to obliterate the entire area. Really? It isn’t a trick? She’s a trickster. We’ve seen this, with how she affected Cairne’s death. But nevertheless, we must turn off our character’s brain and go through the motions… and sure enough, while we triumph over the Hammer and drive them from the area, we also deliver an artifact of great power into Magatha’s hands. She thanks us for being a dupe (but I wasn’t! I knew what would happen!) and off she goes.
I would bet real money that we see Magatha return later on as a part of a 5-man Dungeon or a 10/25-man Raid encounter. She has three artifacts of Tauren power (the Rattle of Bones, the Writ of History, and the Drums of War), plus the Twilight Hammer’s aptly-named Doomstone. I know “encounter mechanics” when I smell them.
Tanaris is only partly altered by the Cataclysm, but leveling through the zone is made less painful thanks to scattered quest hubs and more flight paths. There are significantly less quests available in Gadgetzan, but they are designed better and are not nearly as grueling (Wastewander Water Pouches, you will not be missed).
There is less “story” to this zone. Do not expect quite so sweeping a storyline as there was with Thousand Needles — here, you are doing odd jobs for the Bilgewater Cartel, in hopes of impressing the new Baron of Gadgetzan, Marin Noggenfogger, and convincing him to give up his neutrality and side with the Horde. The Alliance has a Gnome representative present as well, and I can guess their quests focus on swaying Marin to their side.
Fortunately, the inclusion of Goblins allows what storytelling there is to be far more tongue-in-cheek. You spend most of your time offing pirates and improving the Bilgewater Cartel’s image, and later “encouraging” the Dunemaul Ogres to join the Horde as cheap labor. And let me tell you, Megs Dreadshredder, the Bilgewater representative, can get pretty ruthless — but she absolutely adores you, appreciates what you’re doing, and often calls you “babe.” I applaud the quest designers here for simply making Megs a likable character through her dialog. She’s smart, and no-nonsense, cool but not downright cold. You are truly glad to have someone like her on your side.
The zone’s conclusion takes place at the gates of Uldum, and you are reminded of its presence. You’re also left to wonder exactly what purpose it serves — something to later be answered when you reach 85. This is the most “lore-centric” area of the zone, and the Reliquary — the Blood Elves’ equivalent of the Explorer’s League — is investigating the ruin and its ties to the Titans.
And, Level 50! Hooray! The final quest hub in Tanaris (the Reliquary camp) encourages you to continue onward into Un’goro Crater. More on that next time!