Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Levelling instances rated again. I mean: More of them rated. Yes, that's it!

It seems almost time to have a second part. More instances rated for their levelling value. Which is not solely based on experience or even experience per hour. There are numerous factors that all weigh into how much I hate Uldaman an instance can be rated.

Last time we (that is the royal we again, by the way) decided to visit the low level instances of Ragefire Chasm and Deadmines. Today we move on to the mid-20s range. Not only in our choice of travelling companion, but also in the level range of the instance. A certain amount of experience coupled with a relaxed attitude and beautiful rewards are expected at this level. Again – in both the companion and the instance.

We shall try for a threesome today. Due to the dirty looks of my wife we’ll limit this experience to the dungeons only! Shadowfang Keep, Wailing Caverns, and the ever horrible Blackfathom Deeps.

Shadowfang Keep:

Quick introduction for those not blessed with a bloodelf chick horde character: Shadowfang Keep is located in Silverpine Forest, somewhere halfway down the road to hillsbrad. It’s a proper keep, overlooking a small settlement where the friendly population turns into bloodthirsty werewolves worgen at night. Pretty much the same happened in the keep, except that there are also the undead remains of the previous owners about – and some bats – and a mad mage.

Let’s start with the quests question. There are a measly total of three quests. The total experience for all those comes up to a ridiculously low 9500 experience. At level 27 (the highest level quest in this instance) 32.200 experience are required to advance. Not even 30% of a level. We’ll give this a D. Because Alliance players get exactly nothing – and for hordelings the amount is probably quicker gained by doing a few more quests outside.

Not a good start, however there is always point 2. Instance design. Now not only does Shadowfang Keep offer a rather nice walk-up, complete with drawbridge and portcullis, it also feels like a proper little keep should be designed. There are stables and locked doors, an inner courtyard crawling with defenders, armed guards on the walls, a dining hall with an attached kitchen and finally a towering tower with guards and bosses and the final mage. It feels as if the actual last few rooms should not fit into any of the towers seen from outside, but we shall gloss over minor inconsistencies like that and mention the rather nifty music instead. We like the Keep and grant it a princely A. Apparently we (that is me and my mid-20s companion) are not alone – as there are rumours about of Shadowfang Keep being rebuilt as a heroic dungeon in the Cataclysm expansion.

Accessibility and Time requirements go a bit hand in hand here. It’s a suitable instance for undead and blood elf players – especially as they have a good chance of actually picking up the quests in the turn of their normal gaming. It’s a bit out of the way for orcs, trolls and cows and it is in the middle of a horde levelling area for anyone alliancey. For the sake of continuity I’m going to award a B – because the deadmines got the same. It never took all that long to clear and is a pretty linear instance (with only a few twists and turns around the courtyard) so we’re awarding a B for time as well… I don’t remember anything remarkable, so it can’t deserve anything better or worse.

Total count for Shadowfang Keep comes up to D + A + B + B. A solid B (and I could have copied this straight from the Deadmines). Don’t do it for the quests and otherwise enjoy a well designed castle. Keep. Whatever.

It’s also the first instance I remember that had nasty patrols. Patrols that are worth waiting for and pulling safely into a corner. And an endboss that keeps his aggro list through a teleport but is then mainly available to ranged DPS. And a mindcontrol that requires CCing some of your party members. A good many things that’ll return later and in force.

Next up (or rather: down) the Wailing Caverns. Located in the Barrens (nowhere near Mankriks wife, just in case you found her) this instance is a bit of an oddity. There are neutral and horde quests in here. The good ones are all horde only – and the leather set was designed with shamans in mind, back in a time when only the mighty horde had those.

Quests start all over the place as well. Thunder Bluff (as far as I can remember), Ratchet and in the left eyesocket of the skull that makes up the entrance of the Wailing Caverns complex. Not all of the quests are elite – some of them are finished outside. I can truly not say if this was different back in the day (you know.. when men were men and dwarves were stout) – probably all the harmless critters populating the cave were elites back then.

There are a lot of quests, though. I count nine for a total experience value of 15.310. Highest level is a 22 (dungeon) – so based on the 24.000 experience required this comes to 64% of a level (if you’re a bloodelf chick hordeling). Not bad at all. We’re going to grant it a generous B, because picking up all of those quests will take you up approximately three levels from exploration experience alone.

Which leads to instance design. Much like most of the old world instances, the actual entrance is hidden inside a cave. The cave has side corridors, deep pits and carnivorous creatures – along with the usual mould and spiders and such. The annoyance factor of this entrance is downgraded a lot by the currently non-elite monsters. There even lives a rare thing in the pool in the centre (just in case you manage to slip on a slime patch and plummet into the … let’s just pretend it never happened, okay?).

Inside, the instance is split into three separate branches – all of them will be visited eventually due to the quest progression, but there is no indication which direction to head to first. Personally I think this is a great feature, giving more flexibility to exploration and happy dungeon-delving. Current instances do not really follow this design any more – and tend to be circular rooms with an entrance and a spawnpoint in the worst case. The three separate arms contain all sorts of mad druids, waterfalls, a spot where you actually need to jump to clear a ledge for progress, an angry tortoise, tin nodes and all sorts of snakes. Oh yes – and a giant murloc.

I’ll give it a B for instance design. I like it, but it is easy to get lost – and if you don’t get lost yourself you can bet on someone else doing just that and requiring backtracking and slow progress and markers and best a ball of string.

The time requirement is comparatively large. The instance itself is certainly not longer than the Deadmines, but the time spent travelling around the whole place adds up. Especially as the final quest only becomes available once all bosses are dead – and it requires you to go back to the entrance of the instance. If you are doing this in a proper group, trash will probably have respawned by now. I’d probably plan for a whole evening – certainly more than two hours - if you want to do the whole thing in one go. Note that there really is not much of an option to skip parts – the wings are not equal in length. I’ll give it a rating of C – this is one of the examples where maybe too much time is spent in comparison to the rewards.

Accessibility again depends on the faction – Horde have it a good bit easier than Alliance with a flightpoint at the Crossroads. Both are in for an overland walk, a weird path up a mountain and through the nose of a stone skull and down a spiralling path to the proper instance entrance. I’ll give it a C, too. This could be improved – but there is worse to come (maybe it’s too much of a spoiler if I mention that there will be worse in this very post?).

Total? B + B + C + C turns into a C in my math. Definitely so if you are an Alliance player. The quest rewards are so good that this might actually be a B for bloodelf chicks Hordelings.

And you’ll learn that instance quests take you to each and every boss and make you explore each and every corner of an instance. Which is a horrible lie in several of the instances to come, but prepares new players perfectly for the Outlands and Northrend.

And then there are the Blackfathom Deeps in this level range. My first instance, I think. Back in the day. As a rogue I was expected to tank and dps and heal with bandages. Nothing much changed since then, really.

Let’s get to the experience stuff first: Ten quests in total (if I didn’t mix up some alliance and horde ones) for 24.840 experience. At level 21 only 22.400 would be required, so you will level in this instance. Which is nice. The quests are also all available in a very limited area – this was originally intended as a night elf dungeon and they don’t have very many tree-huts settlements. Some of them are picked up inside the instance again – much like Wailing Caverns. Part of the quests are again completed outside the actual instance – and there might be a class quest there as well (paladin, or some such). I do have horrible memories about those quests taking forever and not being worth it, but the numbers here force me to give it an A. So there. Have an A.

The instance design is a good bit more linear again. Entrance (once you found it in the tunnel system outside) leads to puddles, leads to swimming around, leads to corridor, leads to area with Twilight Cultists, leads to Cult Leader, leads to opening sliding door, leads to endboss. There is some added bonus here – a few caves branch off, there are patrolling naga under water, the first puddle can be jumped across properly (if you can move) or a mountain scaled and slid down and there are the first stealthing mobs I can remember. A true pain if you are not prepared for slow and steady progress. It isn’t bad – as such – but it’s also not exactly and outstanding instance. I presume bad past experiences colour my perception here – and it’s gloomy and underground and below sea-level and there is dripping water and demons and such. I’ll give it a C. Because it feels bad – and that has to be reason enough.

The time requirement and accessibility are the true killers of this instance, however. It’s located as far away from any elven flightpoint as they could manage. Honestly! The graveyard is in a different zone! Yes I know there is a short path that takes you back to the entrance but COMEON! The quests usually have a prerequisite that is done inside the instance entrance area – which requires you to return to the questgiver for the next step thus making absolutely sure you will be fighting spawns again when you come back. Luckily everyone can have a mount at level 20 by now, but it is still faaaar faaar out there for travel time. I won’t even mention that the amount of twilight cultists is not enough to give everyone their quest drops in a 5-man group. You’d better do it twice, if you intend to do it properly. GOODNESS!

I’ll give it a double F for these two factors. Horrible, horrible placement.

Which comes up to a total of A + C + F + F. A nice average of D. Yep. That’s right. The one instance in the low level segment where the designers got the quest rewards right and it is completely spoilt by the location. Do yourself a favour and skip this one. And it doesn’t bloody help that the quest reward is either a wand or a shield and I did this on a rogue. Not at all!

This concludes post two of the fabulous series about rating dungeons for a better levelling experience. I hope you will tune in again when we return with more refreshing news about places everyone skips these days. Time to return to those mid-20s blonde bloodelf twins from the Silvermoon Beach Volleyball team levelling. Leveling, yes.

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