Friday, August 08, 2008

Deathknights: Levels 55 to 58.

(This Post is intended to be as spoiler-free as possible)

Cast your mind back. Do you remember the first character you levelled past 20? Do you remember actually doing it? If you do, you may remember as many as half a dozen class-specific quests which provided a little bit of class flavour and a lot of practice in your abilities. You may even have had one or two skills or spells granted by these quests. Well, recalling these sessions provides some small inkling of what you have to look forward to with your first foray into being a Deathknight.

The first levels of Deathknight servitude feel very much like those half-dozen class quests, involving key lore points and serving as a test-bed for your abilities, but fully immersive for at least 2 level-ups. Why you have been left 'alive' is explained, key figures are (re-)introduced, some old features of the Plaguelands are discovered anew, and the current lay of the political landscape is explored. All the while you collect a set of gear itemised to lvl58 Outland levels, so with little pain you can jump straight into Hellfire Penninsula if you so desire.

Sensibly you aren't just plonked at the Ebon Hold starting at lvl55 and with 46 Talent Points and a boat-load of new Skills. Throughout the experience you slowly gain Talent Points, one at a time a first to a flood at the end, encouraging you to look carefully at the talents you choose and build a path down the tree. I think this is a very good way of addressing that obvious issue in starting at lvl55, and by lvl57 you should be at least passingly familiar with the first 5 Tiers of one Tree. Some of the unique key class skills are included in those you start with, including 2 Strikes and Death Grip, but you aren't overwhelmed with a dozen new active abilities from the word go.

(Incidentally, I chose Blood talents because I'm a Melee sort of a person. Similarities to the Retribution tree are entirely coincidental of course ;) )

The Deathknight starter quests aren't by any means revolutionary however. They follow the same pattern of 'Go to X' 'Talk to Y' and 'Collect Z' we are all used to, and in many ways are disappointing in that. I'm not sure if it's a limitation in technology or in imagination but there isn't much to set them apart from the quests we've seem for the past 70 levels. The difference is in the way they are presented - new game engine features have allowed Blizzard to very clearly and fairly seamlessly show the progression of time from a just pre-Plaguelands Cauldron era to a time just before the chronological start of the Azerothian Nations return to Northrend. Hopefully this method of storytelling will be revisited in the Expansion proper (Tech permitting) as it's the first time playing the game that you feel that your actions have had a tangible impact on the World. It possible, this is a much better way of treating past/future than the Caverns of Time IMO.

Early ideas of how Blizzard may implement riding in Siege Engine's are forums with a Quest which is the first instance of 'Go get a Horse and bring it back' without it being an escort quest. The now obligatory bombing run quest is revisited, but with a Frozen twist. Nothing too new here, apart from the obvious cool factor. Still, all the quests are very linear, just one or two with multiple directions to proceed and multiple outcomes would be nice.

Finally, Deathknights themselves. Contrary to early fears they don't seem at all overpowered (at least for the level) and in many ways the Runic system feels more limiting than empowering. It's early days yet, but I believe that Deathknights will play like a rather more hardy Rogue such that managing cooldowns and timing abilities correctly will be central to the class. Mods which make the process of Rune recharging more visible will be a must.

So there you have it, my take on Deathknights, lvl55-58. Of course right now that's a certain amount of extrapolation - some of the quests remain frustratingly buggy and the quality of others (most notably the much talked about Finale to the Deathknight chain) depend rather heavily on the number of Deathknights online and on that quest at the time. I'm going to take a departure from other Bloggers and say that rolling a Deathknight isn't a must for any Warcraft player. If you favour casters almost exclusively and for you gameplay is more important than lore then you can probably skip DK's. If however (like me) you are something of a Lore-whore, love melee characters or plain love the idea of playing a Deathknight then it is well worth rolling one. And it will be better to do it earlier rather than later, although probably not in the first week or two of release. If you do choose to take part in the quest line take your time. Read the flavour text, talk to the NPC's, and above all enjoy yourself.

I finish this post by expressing what I feel is the one lore shortfall: the transition from Deathknight-centricity to Faction-centricity is jarring. You can fly anywhere you want in the Eastern Kingdoms but you only have your previous levelling knowledge to aid you in where to go next. One final Quest, guiding you back to your Capital City and indicating the new state of relations between the Ebon Hold and Alliance (or Horde) would neatly reintegrate you back into the mainstream questlines and perhaps nudge you towards Outland, the next area that you should be exploring.


With Build 8905 there is a final quest linking you back to Stormwind or Ogrimmar. This is a great way to round off your first few levels of Deathknight gameplay which fairly seamlessly draws you into the larger game world. I'm glad it'll make to launch.


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