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UPDATE: Fuuuuuuu! This post posted before I was done editing it apparently and none of my changes too. :( Apologies if you get this twice on your feed readers – please read this version. It’s better. I swear.

Warning: This post is both image and spoiler heavy (for Dun Morogh, Loch Modan, Elwynn Forest, and the Wetlands).
 
Addendum to the warning: I’m a little over-excited right now, so I’m just going to assault you with some pictures until my thoughts can cohere into something resembling a respectable post. Cool? Cool.

This Just In: Gnomes Are Still Awesome

Exhibit A (for Awesome):

Exhibit B (for Better than you):

Exhibit C (for Class):

For what it’s worth, Bingles Blastenheimer is quite possibly my favouritest gnome ever (I mean, just look at him!). One of the many, many, many changes that I have been gorging myself on in the Dwarven Maps (Dun Morogh and Loch Modan, I mean – I’m not deep enough into the Wetlands yet to comment in depth) is that he apparently has a son now. Well, I suppose he had the son before since apparently the guy is a teenager already, but he just never talked about him. And I suppose, under the circumstances, I can’t blame him – the boy is actually fairly “normal”, given that he’s a gnome. His quests and dialogue are all well reasoned, not over-excited, and contained no made-up words that I remember (for shame, Ando! You are a lovely character, but you fail as a gnome!). I was almost concerned…and then this happened:

And then THIS happened:

And then this happened:

And my faith in the future of the Gnomish Race was restored.

In Other News: Dwarves Are Cranky

I know this isn’t new (Aggro Management Exclusive: they’re also drunk! Who knew?!), but it seems the Cataclysm has made the Dwarves crankier than usual, and I honestly found myself chortling gleefully at some of the acidic things they had to say to me and about each other:

Dwarves are cranky

Even their hats are out of joint (awesomely so, if I may be so bold):

The Combination Thereof

There’s honestly something about the combination of Dwarves and Gnomes that I adore. Dwarves are these stout, hardy, straightforward creatures, and their relationship with the Gnomes is genuinely heart-warming. Something in the way they work with and protect the eccentric, energetic little balls of light and creativity that are the Gnomes. They’re the original straight-man and clown. It’s terribly cute. The Dwarves bear the Gnomes’ out-there-ness with such dignity and stoicism and the Gnomes try SO FREAKING HARD to be helpful and useful. They give me the warm fuzzies.

There’s a point at the end of the Gnomeregan 1-5 starter zone where you successfully win a battle against Thermaplugg’s minion as part of a coalition of Gnomes and Dwarves. After the battle, when you hand in, Mekkatorque (fully voice acted, and positively jubilant) yells:

Razlo Crushcog is no more! The people of Ironforge and Gnomeregan speak with one voice this day. Hear us well, Thermaplugg. The day of your defeat approaches!

Beautiful.

Moving Right Along…

So to attempt to slap this post into some kind of coherency, let me just work my way around to what I actually intended to talk about before I got completely derailed by my renewed love of the short races of Azeroth (soon to be joined by the Goblins, who I already want to hug and pet and love forever).

My point is thus: I have played through the Dwarven/Gnomish starting maps, and started Elwynn (…as a Dwarf…don’t ask) and wish to provide my unsolicited opinion of them.

In general, may I just say, my love for this game has been rekindled to a degree I would previously have told you was not possible. The obvious caveat on this is I don’t know how long it will last. Sooner or later I will have played through these maps a froopopapillion times again and I’m sure I’ll go back to being sour and bored and developing a wandering eye for other games. But for now at least, I am intrigued and engaged and amused and thrilled and impressed and insanely happy all at the same time – except in Elwynn, but I’ll get to that.

Coldridge Valley, Gnomeregan, and Northshire

Coldridge Valley

Nicely done, overall. Nothing too stale or repetitive. Some interesting NPCs, good continuity in their dialogue and quests – though there was the one guy that totally hit on me (who can blame him? My Dwarven shaman is hot, and that is not even remotely sarcastic. She’s awesome) in one quest, but utterly failed at following up on it in the rest of the chain. I feel so rejected.

I like that the Frostmane trolls have been given a bit more meat in their motives and back story. The addition of the Soothsayers or whatever they were called was nice, but I can’t help but notice the quest chain went kind of like this:

Dwarf #1: Go in there and kill all the troll whelps.
Dwarf#2: Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on a second. Let’s find out why they’re here before we just wipe them out.

Which I thought was really progressive, you know? Because before they were all: “look, there’s these trolls, see? And they’ve got these kids. Just go wipe them out. Don’t ask any questions, just wipe them out.” There was a brief moment when I picked up Dwarf #2’s quest where I really, honestly thought Blizz was going to let me off the hook WITHOUT murdering a bunch of troll children. Then I realized Dwarf #1 had given me a quest too – kill X troll babies.

All right, says I, maybe, after killing the babies and finding out the real reason the trolls are here, Dwarf #1 will feel bad about the homicide and tell me to go make peace with them or something.
So I headed out to where the babies were and began my wholesale slaughter, all under the watchful eyes of the adult Soothsayers who were busy waxing philosophical about their deal with the fire elemental while their young charges were being murdered.

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but that quest is now even MORE awkward than it was before. Not only am I killing children, I’m apparently doing it with the approval of the adults watching me do it. Those adults have GREEN NAMES. They are FRIENDLY to me. Why? WTF? I don’t need this guilt!

But I comforted myself with the thought that there’s no way Blizzard would make this quest so awkward unless there was a peaceful resolution in the end, right? Right?!

So back I go to hand in both quests. After handing in the soothsayer one, Dwarf #2 sends me back to Dwarf #1 with the information we’ve found out, and I’m all: here we go! Remorse time baby! We are hideous murderers and it’s totally time to make up for it! Repent ye heathens!

And he said:

Dwarf #1: Oh. Well, whatevs. Go kill moar. Check the cave. I think you missed some back there.

I grumbled and sulked and stomped my way through the rest of the quest chain. But still – despite taking the awkward-factor to a whole new level, the quest IS actually better than it was before.

I don’t have any complaints about the rest of the quests. Troggs throwing priceless artefacts at me is…well…priceless. The initial quest-giver being stuck in his own personal FPS is amusing and adds a degree of urgency to the whole questline.

But the highlight for me, I think, was NOT having to go through that fucking trogg-infested cave at the end of it. Getting to fly OVER the mountain in a gyrocopter with a gnome filling me in on the political situation in Dun Morogh? Brilliant. Much better than slogging my way through a dank cave full of the single, most irritating sounds in the world. Also, I’m amused by the “go pack your things, because you’re not coming back here” quest that gets you a cloak, some food and alcohol, and a free bag. It’s a cute way of doing it. I’ve always thought it was kind of odd when quest givers just sort of hand you a bag for no reason that I can determine. It’s like you’re the last kid to run up to Santa, but he’s out of presents so he just sort of shrugs awkwardly at you and hands you a dirty old sack full of crushed hopes and dreams.

This bag had stuff in it.

TL;DR: Well done conversion. Fun to play through, but nothing super-epic.

Gnomeregan

Complete and utter love, for the following reasons:

  1. Nothing here is revised or reimagined – it’s completely new. The Gnomes have NEVER had their own starting area. They’ve always had to run through Coldridge Valley.
  2. It’s like the quests were created by Gnomes, for Gnomes. Nary a Dwarf to be seen until toward the end.
  3. All the usual jokes are in there, but there’s some degree of seriousness to it too. You can FEEL their longing to be home.
  4. It’s GNOMEREGAN. What’s not to love?
  5. Etc.

I don’t quite know why, but I’m enamoured of the idea that your Gnome character has been living in Gnomer since the “incident.” There’s something really exciting about working with your rescuers to get yourself out of Gnomer, de-radiated, and back out into the wide world. The little heroic flare they’ve added into the Gnomer theme doesn’t hurt either.

The area has a decent sense of momentum that’s maintained through the quests. Plus, it’s all about the Gnomes. It grounds your character in its own race, and does a much better job differentiating them from the Dwarves culturally and historically speaking. I just rolled a Troll (haven’t played it through very far yet) but I imagine it will be the same for them. When you share a starter map that belongs to another race, you kind of get lost under that other race. You’re not REALLY a Troll, you’re a tall Orc with fucked up hair. You’re not really a gnome, you’re a brightly coloured Dwarf with poor judgment. You never really get a good sense of your own race, which can make it challenging to try – from an RP/story standpoint – to place your character within it.

I also liked the introduction of a few more factions within the Gnomish race. There’s the heroic members of the Survivor Assistance Facilitation Expedition (S.A.F.E.), and the dedicated crew from Gnomeregan Covert Ops. They’re just stupid little additions to add some colour and flavour to the zone, but I really like them. They add a bit of depth to the race as a faction unto itself. They hint at the organization within the Gnomish government. They add a bit of legitimacy – by virtue of their existence, and in spite of their silly acronyms (of which I am a fan) – to a race that is often sorely lacking in legitimacy in terms of the way Blizzard handles it.

I should probably move on or I’m going to go into a rant here about the Gnomish Situation and how little attention it gets and how as much as I love the silliness and fun around the Gnomes I do wish Blizz would give them just a BIT more credit than they tend to.

TL;DR: Gnomer is as awesome as the Gnomes for which it is named. Roll a Gnome, Save our Home!

Northshire

So, I rolled a gnome and play through the Dwarven lands. Then I rolled a Dwarf and played through the 1-5 map and realized I’d already done the Dwarven lands and wanted to try something new, so I took my little shaman over to Elwynn, intending to start Northshire. I ran all the way up there and stared around in puzzlement, wondering where the quests were. I ran around the Abbey and inside the Abbey, and /begged at the quest givers but nobody would talk to me. Not one of them.

I ran around screaming: But there are Goblin Assassins, can’t you see them?! And Orcs! There are Orcs! Orcs in Elwynn! And the GODDAMNED VINYARD IS ON FIRE YOU OBVIOUSLY NEED HELP WHY WON’T YOU GIVE ME THE QUESTS?!

Because they’re racists bastards, that’s why.

TL;DR: Will apparently have to roll a human to be able to report anything beyond the fact that there are Goblins and Orcs and the Vineyard is on fire and I DON’T KNOW WHY.

Dun Morogh Proper / Elwynn Forest

Dun Morogh

Very well done questing experience. The quest hubs no longer send you running hither and thither like a chicken with your head cut off, only to send you thither and hither again once you’ve done them all. Things are grouped more efficiently and sensically. There is a lot of hand-holding in terms of transferring you from one quest hub to another. It’s a very linear experience, which I don’t think is necessarily bad. In fact, it’s probably nothing short of excellent for newbies who have no idea what anything is or where to find it and are too busy being overwhelmed by things to try to figure out where the Hell to go next. But I AM a little afraid that the linearity will cause things to get old faster than they would otherwise. Even if there were two quest hubs I was handed off to and I could pick what order I wish to do them in that would mitigate this to some extent, but ultimately: meh. It’s a non-issue for me until I get bored. It’ll be a huge issue then, but until then, I repeat: meh.

I like how Blizzard has taken more care to link one quest to another, and link events to quests to other events so that everything makes sense. I never found myself committing mass genocide and wondering in a distant sort of way why I was doing this outside of some vague justification given in a quest. The linkages are done well and the zone as a whole tells a much more solid story than it did previously. Most of the quests feel like they’re moving in the same direction and coming from the same place. I had a much stronger feeling of contributing to a larger effort or towards a solid goal, and less like I was being given a bunch of busy work by a few drunk dwarves too lazy to do it themselves.

I also like how, in between trying to give their storyline gravity and weight, they throw in the occasional thing to make fun of themselves – or of us as players. When I saw the rewards for this quest in Dun Morogh I cracked up:

And there’s this gem, later on in Loch Modan:

There are also tonnes of new rare-spawns, which is awesome because, honestly, rare spawns are like Christmas to me:

And they’ve given the old monsters new abilities, which for no apparent reason pleases me greatly. I think it’s because it adds to the uniqueness of otherwise boring mobs. This is a picture of Ol’ Sooty, but all bears have this ability now. It’s not a generic spell – it’s obviously specifically for bears. It’s just a nice example of attention to the little details that add a bit of colour to the world:

Alternatively, I am easily impressed. Let’s not rule this one out too quickly.

TL;DR: Dun Morogh is fun to play through; good storyline, lots of content, solid revisions to old quests and entirely new quests.

Elwynn Forest

Are you ready to be completely blown away by the AMAAAAZZZINNNGGG changes to Elwynn Forest?! I haven’t completed the map yet, but I’m half to three quarters of the way through (barring any new quest chains I just haven’t hit yet), and I just don’t know how to capture all of it. It’s just too big! Too incredible! Too cataclysmic!

I mean look at this quest! When will the craziness stop?!

And Princess has a bow now? A BOW? I can barely keep up with all the new and exciting changes!

And even though I’ve killed a hundred thousand boars to make Stonefield bake Maclure a hundred thousand pies so I can kill Goldtooth a hundred thousand times to get back her god damned necklace just ONE MORE TIME, it’s totally a million times better now because even though not so much as a period was changed in the entire quest chain, or in fact any of the quests involving Fargodeep Mine, they moved Goldtooth. He’s on top now. That makes all the difference in the
world:

Especially because they didn’t change his location on the map so I spawn-camped him in his old spot and got respawn-raped by six god damned kobolds TWICE IN A ROW before I googled it and found out he’d moved. Exciting stuff, folks, exciting stuff.

So far, I have found a single new quest. NOTHING ELSE appears to be edited, changed, or revised. Oh, except now when they send me to the opposite end of the map they give me a horse to get there. And there’s an FP at Eastvale now so I can fly back and forth. This is actually a very, very, very good thing, but I’m having trouble drumming up any enthusiasm when all it’s doing is getting me from one tedious old quest to another faster, and preventing me from farming mines and herbs along the way.

I heard they did something or other with Mankrik’s wife. When will Rolf and Malakai get some love, Blizz, huh?

Maybe it’s because I’m playing through on a Dwarf, or because I didn’t do Northshire so I’m missing a chain or two that extends from there. Sarcasm aside, there are a few changes I’ve noted – the thieves on the map are no longer Defias thieves, as referenced above Princess is now actually accessible without a three hour walk through the forest, and so on. But none of the quest text so far has been different or revised. All of the same quests are still there. You’d think by now, between the Scourge, the Burning Legion, and now the Cataclysm, the god damned Maclures and Stonefields would have put their feud behind them and moved on so Tommy Joe can stop skulking on the river bank, but no.

I will reserve my final judgement for when I finish the map and when I actually play it through on a human (in the vain hopes that that will give me additional quests I can’t access as a Dwarf), but so far I’ve seen absolutely nothing worth shouting about. To top it off, I played through the first chunk of Elwynn AFTER playing through Dun Morogh’s new experience. The sense of momentum and contribution that was there in Dun Morogh (which is new as of the Shattering) is, of course, not present in the pieces of Elwynn I’ve played through. Because they’re the same old pieces they’ve always been with a few token changes that barely merit a mention.

Sad protflashes is sad.

I maintain hope that something, somewhere, at some point will be different on this map (I hear Hogger is new and exciting? I haven’t gotten to him yet). Pre-shattering, this map was the worst one for me personally and the one I was MOST looking forward to being updated because of how many times I’ve run it – even more than the Gnome map, and that should tell you something! But I’m at least half way through and it doesn’t look like it. I was so dejected I logged out and rolled a Troll hoping the colours would cheer me up (they didn’t…but the baby raptors did).

TL;DR: Final judgement pending, but for the moment: Blizzard, I am disappoint.

But I’m holding out for Westfall.

TL;DR

Rapidly dwindling hopes for Elwynn Forest aside, I’m still terribly impressed with the “new” Azeroth and all that comes with it.

I’ve been having a blast the last few days, even with limited play time. I’m sure at some point the honeymoon will be over and I can look at everything a little more critically, but right now I’m still at the point where if it’s a change, it’s good, and I like it, and I’m going to leap and frolic and play like an idiot.

It’s kind of funny because the actual expansion drops next week, and as excited as I am about goblins and worgen and 80-85, they could announce that they’re pushing it back by another MONTH and I wouldn’t care. I’ve got plenty to do right now – more than I’ve had to do in forever. Almost too much, actually. I have more than once found myself paralyzed from having too many options for what to play. Or, you know, post about. In case the 3000 word post and 700 screenshots didn’t give it away. I think I’m actually a little overwhelmed, I can’t focus on anything for more than a second before the next shiny comes along and pulls me away.

But then again, it’s been so long since I had shinies to chase! It’s so nice to be back in the game.

Right, so, I stared at a blank Word page for – no joke – thirty minutes this morning trying to remember my super-awesome-idea-for-a-post that occurred to me at ten o’clock or so last night. Obviously it can’t have been that super-awesome. So instead, since my brain has been on Gnomeregan since it was announced that we will finally complete the only quest I ever cared personally about in the five years I’ve played this game, you get an RP post! Because…I suck like that.

Also, as a heads up, I had my first few French conversations without help last week. I’ll post about these once I can get my screenies up and ready.

Sword to the back; twist. Follow up with a shield to the back of the head, hard enough that something gives. Sword out and in again, right through the heart, just to be safe. Step gingerly around the growing puddle of trogg blood – never know if it’s radioactive or not – and take up a position in the old watch tower. Only instead of watching the road leading to Gnomeregan, I turn my eyes on the city instead. Threats don’t come from without anymore. Only from within.

And below.

It was probably a mistake…not asking for help in the early days. But our allies had their own wars to fight. They wouldn’t have been able to help us in the end, anyway. Still, though…I wonder if it wasn’t pride.

I know the taller races look at us and see a silly people, full of energy and ideas, too much enthusiasm, not enough forethought. And to some extent that may be true. But they don’t see the rest of it. They don’t see the pride. Gnomeregan is ours, has always been ours. We believed we could save it, on our own. We were wrong. We made it worse. It’s not just our city we’ve lost, either. We’re standing on the brink of losing our entire race. So many dead, or mutated and addled and little more than animals.

The rest of us…it’ll be a long time before we fully understand the long-term implications radiation exposure may have had on us as a whole. But if we can’t find a way to fix it, we’re looking at chronically low fertility rates, eventually leading to the dying out of the Gnomish race.

We’re a strong people, stronger than we’re given credit for. Whatever part pride played in our decision to fight the troggs alone, it wasn’t our only motivation. As I’ve said, our allies had other concerns. It would have been irresponsible to call on them; to ask them to dedicate resources to us when they were needed for the defense of their own lands and peoples. And even now…staring at the remains of our homeland, watching it defiled every day by the troggs and our addled kin and the usurper king on his cancerous throne, knowing there may come a day soon when the Gnomes no longer grace Azeroth with their spirit and creativity and inventiveness…we stand strong. We fight. We fight hard.

We’ve lost more than anyone can know. Family, friends, material goods, plans and schematics, our safety, our history, our trust, maybe even our future generations. There’s not one of us that’s whole anymore – my brother died flying over Loch Modan on a recon mission. All of us lost someone to Thermaplugg’s machinations. The troggs haven’t stopped taking from us since they bubbled up out of the depths.

But our spirit is not lost.

Our hope is not lost.

Gnomeregan is not lost.

Not yet.

Not while there’s even one of us left.

I sheathe my bloody sword and pull the radio from my belt.

“Togglevolt, this is P. F. Blastenheimer. I’m in position and things are looking rosy for a strike at the coordinates we talked about. Big group of troggs ripe for the picking.”

“Copy that, Blastenheimer,” he responds, squeaky voice staticy over the communication device. He hesitates though, and I know what he’s going to ask before he does. “Are there…are there any leper gnomes?”

I take a moment to think through my answer. “There are,” I tell him at last. “A few.” There always are. I don’t know if they’re smart enough, but sometimes I could swear the troggs keep them around knowing we’ll be slower to strike, more reluctant to kill if they’re there. “It’s a kindness we’re doing them, Togglevolt,” I tell him gently. “If it was me, I’d want you to.”

“Right,” he says, but there’s no disguising the catch in his voice, not even with the static. “Flying in hot. Over and out.”

I shake my head sympathetically and switch the channel on the radio. I can already hear the buzz of the bombers coming in from the north. They’ll be flying low to try to avoid the city’s anti-aircraft defences. Sometimes I think it hurts worse to have our own inventions turned on us than it does our kin. A gnome is a thing of flesh and blood, which has a value unto itself. But a machine is an idea, a concept. It’s a philosophy. Our philosophy. A product of all the collected knowledge of us and our ancestors, all the way back to the first gnomes. It’s our link to the past and our gift to the future.

A gift we will reclaim for the future, no matter how uncertain that may be.

“Sparkbolts, this is P. F. Blastenheimer. Togglevolt’s flying in hot right now. Be ready to get your unit in through the hole he blows. Get what you need and get out again.”

“I know, I know,” she snaps impatiently at me. “This is reconnaissance not a battle. I know already.”

“You’ll get your chance to fight,” I assure her. “The High Tinker’s been locked up in the war room with the humans and the dwarves for weeks. I think I even saw an elf in there. It’s going to happen, okay? It’s really going to happen. But we need that info to make it happen.”

“Fine,” it’s grudging, but it’s real. “But you’d better not try to hold me back when the battle really does start!”

“I’ll be right there with you, Pepper,” I say with a laugh. “We all will be. We’re going to take back our home, okay? I promise. We’re going home.”

The bombers fly overhead and suddenly their roar is deafening. I can barely make out the relay of voices over the radio screaming “For Gnomeregan!” as the planes drop their loads and the recon team charges in through the smoke and the screaming troggs and we put one more screw into the finishing touches of the dream we’ve all been living and breathing since we were driven out of our home years ago.

I rub awkwardly at my eyes, and tell myself the sudden sting is just smoke from the airstrike even though I know it’s not.

A chorus of cheers erupts from the radio as the planes peel away again, disappearing into the clouds to return to Ironforge, and I throw my head back and laugh like an angel on Judgement Day.

“For Gnomeregan!” I shout into the roar of their engines.

Home. After all these years…we’re finally going home.

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