Mat: We've already talked to death about the number of cutscenes in Uldum over the course of the months we've been playing Cataclysm, but it bears repeating -- players do not like control taken away from them. If I want to watch something cool happen, let me watch it. The fight between Brutallus and Madrigosa in the Sunwell raid is a perfect example of a cutscene that doesn't take control away from a player. Rather, we would get the controls ripped away from us at every moment along the Harrison Jones quests just to swing the camera around and watch our character run up a sand dune. There was no substance to it. Sure, show us Obelisks activating. Don't show me running up a dune. Wrathgate was great because it's hard to show an event like that in game. The lesson is that using cutscenes for everything hasn't been awesome since Final Fantasy 7. They're better when they are used sparingly to show awesome moments in game that would otherwise be incredibly difficult to experience with the engine as is.
The quests themselves were top-notch and really fun, but taking control from the player so much was just tedious.
Alex: Uldum is gorgeous. The first time I saw it was from Tanaris, before Blizzard even allowed you into the zone back in the beta. I crawled up the Tanaris zone border to hit the no-man's land wall and just peeked in to see what I could see. Massive monuments, the pyramids, the whole deal -- it was just so unbelievably beautiful. I couldn't wait to get inside. That feeling did not go away once I was actually in there.
From time to time, I wonder if the scale of Uldum is slightly too big. It's amazing to see when you're flying around in the air, but do you see much of it when you're questing on the ground? The monuments, pyramids and obelisks are somewhat lost to you when you're at ground level. Of course, that's probably how it is in the real world, isn't it? You can't comprehend the scale of the Sphinx until you can take a step back and look at it.
Mat: Uldum is the most beautiful zone in Cataclysm, hands down. The art direction and design teams that built Uldum should get gold stars and plaques on their walls saying how awesome they are. From the enormous structures to the sweeping desert vistas, Uldum was ripped right from ancient Egypt and given Blizzard flair. The sand-swept cities and buried monuments illustrated Uldum's story without saying a word, and the great ships and river delta, the harbors of the tol'vir, and changing ecosystem made Uldum feel alive. I loved every bit of the world that Uldum created.
Somehow Uldum managed to take a zone that should have been two colors and make it one of the most visually appealing and colorful zones in all of Cataclysm. Uldum, in terms of zone design, should be the benchmark that the next expansion is created by, especially because of its perfectly cohesive atmosphere and alien feel while still being part of Azeroth.
What worked? What didn't?
Mat: The flow of Uldum was hit or miss for me. I remember hitting level 84 fairly early in the zone after doing both Hyjal and Deepholm to completion and then heading off immediately to the Twilight Highlands because, frankly, the rewards were better. Uldum would become my fun zone after I had completed Twilight Highlands, much like how I left Storm Peaks and Icecrown alone until hitting the level cap in Wrath of the Lich King. When I did the zone, I jumped around a lot. The pacing was off because I would be in one area doing the Ramkahen stuff and then fall into more Harrison Jones stuff unintentionally. I wish the zone was just broken up into two pieces.
Uldum was an odd mix of great fun and roll-eyes. While I agree with Alex and his assessments of the zone and its very odd reference choices, I don't have the same outward disgust because I just didn't care. I was too excited about the zones before and after Uldum and my eventual love affair with the Twilight Highlands to care, because I left Uldum faster than a desert dust storm.
What Uldum truly succeeds at is showcasing the spectacular work of the Blizzard art department. The creation of a World of Warcraft ancient Egypt was masterfully constructed from the scale of the great statues to the wagons, camels, boxes, and barrels. Thematically, Uldum was perfection -- world building at its absolute finest. The river delta made me think of maps from history class of the ancient Nile. I knew this place because it was so wonderfully put together.
Alex: Uldum is my least favorite zone in Cataclysm, so my list of what didn't work is longer than my list of what did. Go back to previous zones if you want to read positivity from me. I loved Vashj'ir and Deepholm and all of that jazz. Uldum? Ehhh.
I've said enough about Harrison Jones, so I'll just say that goes on my list of didn't work. Another item that didn't work was the crazy number of cutscenes in the zone. You put me in a cutscene so I could run from the bottom of a sand dune to the top of the sand dune. You put me in a cutscene so my character can /dance without my input. You put me in a cutscene so I can /rude without my input. Why? Why do these things? Am I not capable of running 10 feet on my own? Is it essential to the narrative that my righteous paladin of the Light do the Macarena?
The zone could have used more interaction with Deathwing, or at least Al'akir. We don't see or hear Al'akir a single time throughout the whole zone. You'd think an elemental lord starting trouble would be worth talking about. At least we resolved that one and Al'akir didn't get dragged off by a sky octopus or whatever.
For me, the standout moments in Uldum all revolved around the tol'vir and their pharoah, convincing all of the other leaders to vote on mobilizing for war. There were also some very fun and epic moments with Harrison Jones that happened during his quest line, but the majority of that was overshadowed by how annoying he was.
I thought Uldum did culminations very well. Each of the quest lines in Uldum felt like they actually paid off, especially ending in the two 5-man instances, Halls of Origination and Lost City. Both of those instances felt like they flowed very well from the main zone into the dungeon, except for Brann. If you had not done the Harrison Jones quest lines beforehand, you might have been a little lost as to what the heck Brann was doing there anyway. Other than that, the design of Uldum and crafting an Egyptian theme was probably the biggest standout victory in the zone, period.
The very beginning of the Harrison Jones quest chain was fun, before he overstayed his welcome and things got a little Reichy. The accidental explosions, the toppling of priceless, ancient statues -- those all had me grinning at the fun little throwbacks to the films. Harrison Jones is awesome in small amounts. I loved him in Grizzly Hills, I loved him as the archaeology trainer, and I loved his early Uldum quests. It just went on too long.
I also enjoyed questing with Salhet, the Ramkahen that was awful at combat. His quests weren't the most thrilling, and they certainly didn't get my adrenaline pumping, but they were something different. Heck, he was something different. Much like Zenkiki in the Plaguelands, sometimes those characters that aren't the same ol' powerful warrior thing are very enriching and memorable. Different is good.
The Cataclysm Zone Post-Mortems will conclude with a Horde and Alliance split discussion about the Twilight Highlands, the final leveling zone in the expansion. With two unique storylines for the Horde and the Alliance, Twilight Highlands was truly unique amongst its company.
Don't forget to check out our other Cataclysm
zone post-mortem articles: