I have not had nearly as much time to play at the PTR as I would have liked. Because of that, since originally having a sneak peek at the Cataclysm Event I specifically avoided playing the different builds that came along with the patches. Now however, I could not help myself from updating and logging into the 4.0.3a PTR version, just to look at the new login screen and simply gaze upon the new Stormwind City. Since then, what was only suppose to be a small look turned into a couple of days long testing phase, to see how the game experience has changed for the first 20 levels.
To make sure the change felt real and as close to a new Warcraft player as possible, I chose a class that has so far been completely alien, the rogue and made sure I did not cheat with gold or heirlooms. Darksun, my test character, is a human just simply because Elwynn Forest and Westfall are still my favorite zones in the game, even counting in Outland and Northrend from the previous expansions, and because (with the race/class combo changes) a lot of people will be rolling into this area. The fact that eight out of ten fellow test players I ran across were human hunters only supports this paradigm.
Game mechanic wise, nothing has really changed since the 4.0.1 patch, so I will not delve into those. However, the first thing jumps at you is the new intro and the huge changes made to the immediate environment. Stormwind has been damage, one whole district annihilated, the city’s castle has change completely, buildings like the bank and auction house have been upgraded to the new millennium. Even the street pavement has been updated and the first time you see it, you simply want to stop, walk around and look at the new city. It is absolutely gorgeous.
The city also isn’t the only thing that has changed drastically. While Elwynn Forest itself has not changed much, the first you walk into Goldshire a big, welcome update catches your attention; new flight point. Not just in Goldshire, they also added on in the Logging Camp to the east and the idea carriers onto neighboring zones as well; both Redridge Mountain and Westfall have several new FPs, making it a lot more convenient to get from end to end without spending ten minutes just running. Particularly before you get ground mounts, the time saved is just invaluable.
Westfall, as a location and zone, has undergone bigger changes than Elwynn Forest and although still feels like it used to, the difference is tangible. Questing all around has been updated and is more logical and convenient, often introducing the player to the zone piece by piece. Phasing plays a big role in Redridge Mountain where the quests will literally more you from quest hub to another, across the area. Since I do not wish to spoil it for many of you, I will not give out too many details but I will say, by the time I reached level 20, I was simply awed. Questing has become fun again and Blizzard has really put an incredible amount of work into this. You can feel and see the changes all around the zones. Old quests with quests items with ridiculous low drop rates or long traveling requirements are gone. It also no longer possible to just pass into a quest hub, pick a dozen quests before spending hours traveling the zone from end to end and completing them all. The quests are much more interesting, more engaging and phasing brings makes more quests available as you complete the old ones, without all long period in between.
So, if you have doubts about Blizzard’s commitment to redoing Azeroth, you can lay them to rest. If rest of the world is as successful as these three new zones I have now played, then I cannot wait for the patch to hit and let me at it. It will be glorious.