This is the second in a series of posts about things I would like to see in warlords. Part one was about non raiding gearing options, you can view it here.
What WoD Needs. Part 2: Intelligent Zone Design
I am not saying that zones are designed poorly in the game, that would be about as far from the truth as you can get. Blizzard does a great job of tying zones together and making them move from one place to the next as smooth as possible. Maybe with the exception of the clusterfuck that cataclysm was, but that was just one huge design mistake that should have never been made so lets pretend it never was, please. They have gotten better at this connected questing with every expansion they have added to the game and I would be wrong to not make a note of that here as I just have. Mists took questing connection and zone connection to a whole new level, a very well designed one. I mean something different however. Something different that just making a zone "tight".
The timeless island is the perfect example of what could be and since it was released I have been thinking about it. There is a design to it that was very intelligent and I have mentioned it here before in other posts about other things and people responded "wow, I never noticed that". Well, I am weird that way and have a slew of alts with varying gear levels all over the place so perhaps that is why I noticed it while others did not. What am I talking about? The scaling difficultly in the zone as you progress through it. It was designed fantastically.
You might be saying to yourself, what are you on about this time grumpy, and perhaps rightfully so. Many people, most even, did not notice the intelligent design of the timeless island as noted by previous comments when I mentioned it. I'll explain.
When you land on the timeless island you land in an area where there are absolutely no hostile mobs. There are of course turtles all over the place. Small turtles, medium turtles and huge turtles, all of which will leave you be and never attack you unless you attack them first. The absolute perfect design for "ease". Just like the starting zone when you create your first character. You fight when you want to fight only, except this time unlike a starting zone you can pick your difficultly level. You can attack the easy to kill non elites, the elites or the huge elites.
From there when moving to the center you could find yourself running into a snake which will gladly kick your ass if you are melee and not well geared, but those snakes are easily avoidable. You might find yourself bumping into a yak or a crane as well and while not as deadly as the snake can be to most they too could provide a minor challenge unless you are appropriately geared and/or skilled. But they are few and far between so like the snakes they are easily avoidable. There are also, like with the turtles, varied degrees of conflict you can get into if you choose to with non aggressive small yaks and small cranes and medium yaks and medium cranes. Basically it is a slight step up in difficulty bump over where you landed.
Once you move on from that center part it steps up the challenge a little bit with slightly more dangerous mobs over at the panda village, no elites, but all aggressive and all quite painful if you are not yet prepared. If you head north a tiny bit there are tigers, small non elite ones and the usually sleeping elite ones so while they are aggressive they will usually not attack you unless you walk almost directly over them. Wouldn't anyone attack someone that walked over them while they were sleeping? Don't blame them for trying to claw you to death, you stepped on their tail while they were sleeping.
The further you explore the larger the challenge gets, the tougher the opponent you will face. From the alementals to the frogs to packs of tigers in 3 and 4 instead of 1 and 2. Then there are the very imposing rock creatures walking around slowly but they will not aggro you even if they are labeled as aggressive unless you walk almost through them, sort of like the sleeping tigers, once again allowing you to pick when you are ready to challenge them.
The further you spread out, the harder the challenge gets. And then there is the time you start to head up the hill and run into the yungols which begin to pose a much more difficult task when compared to everything else you have thus far experienced on the island.
You can pick some small packs of non elite mobs, some packs with 1 elite and 2 non elite, some with 2 elites and some with 2 elites and 2 non elites. Each pack is progressively harder in that bottom part of the hill, each with their own unique abilities that teach you to use abilities that interrupt or stun and avoid stuff on the ground. It stepped up the difficulty level considerably from those mobs you fought below.
After you cross the first bridge they give you a taste of whats to come with much harder enemies than anything you have faced before on the island but they are spread out and easily picked off one at a time. They are a test of ability, to see if you are ready to move on, to see if you are ready to avoid the avoidable, to see if you are ready to use those interrupts and stuns, or if you are already well geared, to see if you can just rip through them for a quick and easy kill. Either way the difficulty has been stepped up.
At the top of that zone there are some harder mobs mixed with these, I'll call them medium mobs. They are a little tighter and less likely to be able to pull one at a time unless you are an expert puller, which is a skill in its own and something you will learn to do if you actually take the time to try it.
Then you can pass over the next part of the bridge and face the hardest mobs you have faced so far. These guys will brutalize you if you are not prepared and even if you are a "good" player if you are not appropriately geared even one seemingly minor error and you will be walking back from the graveyard, once again upping the difficulty as you moved further on to the island.
Then if you have the legendary cloak or use the kite you can buy on the island you can jump over the next bridge, the broken bridge, and face even harder mobs in tighter clusters. You might often see people looking to assemble groups to kill them because they can be brutal. I've seen them rip 5 mans apart like they were tearing up a parking ticket and throwing it back in the police officers face. They will put you down faster than the cop will cuff you for being a jackass.
For the higher geared player these become a test of ability to see if you can do them. Killing one solo is always fun and often an adventure and not to be taken lightly just because you or me can do it. It is an accomplishment for sure and if you take the path all the way around the outer sanctuary you will find yourself face to face with the priest, the most deadly of deadly mobs here and truly test your ability as a player or as a group if you can not solo it. I might have soloed it that first week, but I am a hunter, I still see people that now out gear where I was on that first day die to it. I've seen 5 people in a group that all greatly out gear what I was originally when I killed it die a violent death to it. This is a challenge like no other.
As you see, the further you go in, the harder the mobs get. And then there is entering the sanctuary but that is for those that have the cloak only and once in there you can understand way. How about tackling two of those priests at the same time? If 5 people with cloaks can repeatedly die to one what do you think will happen when they happen to run into two of them with a chanter at the same time? Yeah, it just got real. The difficulty level has reached max level here.
See, that is the beautiful design I love about the timeless island and something I call intelligent zone design. The further you get into the zone the harder things get. It builds the zone not in story alone like a leveling zone would but in difficulty.
Now I understand if this will be the new patch zone approach and I hope it is. Lets face it, the island of thunder was nothing like this. The lightning mine at the end of the opening, the furthest part in, was no more difficult than the troll zone which was one of the first zones you even stepped into. Actually some might argue, myself included, that the saurok, troll and mogu zones we first experience were harder than the later areas we opened. This is the exact opposite of intelligent zone design. As we opened areas each new area should have been harder, not easier or near equal.
Adding this to new zones that are added end game is easy, sure, see how well it was added to the timeless island. It was added so well that most people did not even noticed that the further you went into the zone the harder the mobs where, because it was all scaled and set up so damn well. Most just thought, that area is too hard and never realized that area that was too hard was in a direct line further into the island, that is what makes it intelligent zone design. Bravo blizzard.
I would like to see a little of this approach added to the leveling areas. Perhaps something of a throwback to the pre-cataclysm days when there actually used to be some danger in the world while leveling. Like those ?? dragonkin outside of forest song that told me, "you do not belong here hunter". There were mobs like this all over the world, level 60 zones that just happens to be in a level 20 zone or a level 30 zone or a level 40 zone. We just saw the ?? and did not go there, or walked into them and died a violent and extremely quick death and knew not to go back there.
There is no reason that a leveling zone needs to be just for leveling. It can have multi purposes. Lets take jade forest for example. We have the serpent riders there, a quest hub and area you really can not do until 90, so why not make that entire area for 90s and make the mobs around it appropriate to 90? When leveling through there at 85 you will see them and go, "oh shit" and run like hell or die like a man, either way, you will have faced some real danger in the world.
I think there is a place for multi level zones when leveling just as if that area would have been for 90s or the area near forest song would have been for 60s. Zones can fill more than the purpose of just one level and making them scale up in difficulty, sort of like the island did, so there are harder areas you can accidentally walk into that you are not ready for, like on the island, would be intelligent zone design.
Perhaps have an untied quest hub there with red quests that people that want the challenge can choose to do it and those that don't can choose to follow the regular story line. Like the people that want the easy route on the timeless island stay below and kill cranes and yaks and tigers and the people that want the challenge go across the broken bridge and start killing chanters. Both level 90s, both doing what they are capable of doing. The "red" quest zone would be for the people that want the challenges like going across the bridge and the regular quest line that tells the main story would be like staying below and killing cranes and yaks and tigers, oh my.
It would also leave people options but there would need to be an opening for those options. Again, using jade forest as an example. Perhaps I want to try and beat those level 90 mobs as a level 85, I can go in there and test my ability as a hunter. Hey, you know the saying, "If I can kite it I can kill it." So now there would be some epic experience while leveling, killing mobs in the "elite area" just like there were the elite areas in the old world before cataclysm destroyed all the fantastic design of the old world for the more forgiving, horribly boring, new design of the old world.
It is not only about making zones more alive with the leveling in difficulty it is about making them more interesting, that is another part of intelligent zone design. It also includes something else that many people might have never noticed that I found really early in the expansion almost by accident. A right place at the right time sort of thing, a conditional rare elite spawn.
I only did the wilds on one character, my main, for the loremaster achievement. If it were not for the treasures to be found, rares to be killed, warbringers, anglers and landfall patch none of my other characters would have ever stepped foot into the zone. It served no purpose what so ever and the only quests I have ever done there are either landfall ones or anglers ones. The zone is useless, completely.
That is until I found the single best spawn in the game there, the one I mentioned most might not even know about. It is a large elite spider who's name escapes me at the moment, I am sorry, that drops a fun little toy that lets you summon a large mob of spiders that will follow you around and fight with you for 10 minutes.
You have never seen anything like this you say? Not surprising, even more so if you are not on a populated server that usually had a lot of people there questing. See, the spider only spawns after enough critter spiders are killed in the area. How many? No one knows for sure, I've went there and killed thousands before not to see it spawn because I wanted to get me a new toy as my old one ran out of charges.
Triggered events. Not events like on the timeless island that come at a set time but triggered events are what I would call intelligent zone design. Enough spiders are killed, the rare elite spider is spawned. In this case it is not a shared tag mob so if you want to toy you need to be the first one to tag it but they can fix that and make it shared. That would encourage people to work as a team to kill spiders to spawn it.
So for a useless zone it will always be a zone I remember for that triggered event spider with the toy. Now that is awesome and I would like to see stuff like that around a lot more often. Every zone no matter what could have various conditional things like this added for single person spawns or multi person spawns with a shared tag. It makes zones more alive. Imagine if that spider dropped something more fun and was a shared tag? There would be people in the zone all the time killing spider critters to try and get it to spawn and that would get people out in the world and it will give a zone, a bad one like the wilds, an identity.
There is a lot they can do with the leveling zones than just be zones for leveling. They can add some intelligent zone design to them so they are more than that. They could be something that is worth visiting all the time, they could have areas that are meant to spend time in when at max level, they could have events that are triggered and would inspire people, lots of people, to work together to trigger them often, they could give people that want a challenge a red quest area with harder mobs. Leveling zones do not need to be just for leveling or just for a daily quest hub later, they can have life, long life, too. I would like to see more intelligent zone design. Or at the absolute least, more design like the timeless island when added land masses come where the further you go in the harder it gets, that is good design.