By the time I logged into the stress test today I think it was no longer stressful. The US realms were packed, but the sole AU realm was only at medium pop. It’ll be interesting to see if it gets full tonight when more people will be at home to give it a try.

I rolled a few Alliance and Horde characters to see how each zone was playing and what differences if any there were. The Alliance zones seemed a lot more popular - especially the Humans, but even the Dwarves were fairly busy. Chat was full of either people trolling each other, or full of wonder at the nostalgia hit. The Tauren zone on the other hand was relatively lowly populated, and chat was much more helpful and gentle, as befits the Tauren nature.

Not being overly familiar with the Alliance, it was entertaining to hear how their intros were far more heroic when compared to the Horde. The Dwarves were going to war with the ‘merciless Horde’, and the Humans were being told ‘now is the time for humans’ - racial supremacy seems to be their thing. I wonder if the current voiceover intro is the same… …nope. Updated for Cataclysm, and also doing away with the Horde bashing and Human trumpeting. I guess Cataclysm was good for something after all!

The experience is very familiar, yet also very different. A Paladin starts with precisely zero melee abilities, having only the Seal of Righteousness buff to apply before you auto-attack with a hammer. Everything feels slightly slower and slightly more challenging, though I think respawn rates have been upped - maybe just for the test?

Start zones have aggressive mobs again, and it feels like you have to put more thought into your play. Much of this is simply due to the overpowered nature of Live now we have heirlooms and streamlined levelling, but there’s also a sense of delight at a world which is a bit rough around the edges and a bit more dangerous.

I didn’t play long, partly because the characters will be wiped, but mainly because I started to get the thrill of the new, strange as that may sound. Despite incredibly familiarity with Mulgore and the Tauren starter areas, it felt like I was doing it for the first time. Things seem more like work, more like you have to earn your quests and loot and upgrades and skills. Looting a grey drop and equipping it because it’s better. Having to read the quests to find directions, and understand and learn the map as a result. Dealing with mobs dying slowly, and being cautious on pulls. Knowing that getting through a zone, or a dungeon, or even a quest, is going to take concentration and effort.

It felt like there was a real journey ahead, and one which would take time. It will be fascinating to see if the glow wears off once it launches, but for now I’m excited.

I jumped onto Live shortly after, and attempted the Nazjatar dailies, and the comparison was stark. Even though they’ve made the zone hard - I died a few times - it doesn’t feel like it’s hard because you’re learning, it feels hard because that means it will take longer, and because the map is frustratingly difficult to navigate.

Earning flying almost seems not worth it, and disappointingly punitive with the two new factions you have to advance - as Grimmtooth says, it feels like a slog rather than fun gameplay. I was looking forward to working to the flight unlock, but I think I’m starting to agree with Kaylriene’s theory on the curse of the x.2 patch:

I’d like to talk about what I’ve taken to calling the “ChoreCraft” effect – the point where playing the game distils down to a set of chores you have to do in order to enjoy the game … Since Pathfinder was introduced, no matter how good the underlying content is – no matter how artful the zones, beautiful the music, fun the raid and/or dungeon – it always will have the stink of being the place you go to do the chores.

I think Pathfinder should probably just be a single part, followed by a token quest chain unlock when the patch that enables flying drops. That would be far more satisfying, and allow the design of the new zones to focus on flying and fun instead of repetition and delay.

Despite all this I still like the idea of being land-locked for the first period of an expansion, but delaying it now via rep grinds is just busy work. It’s a worry for Blizzard when the initial narrative for a point release is that it’s annoying. There is some hope I guess as people seem to enjoy Mechagon, but there’s no avoiding Nazjatar.