At first, setting up bars, gear and abilities in a hurry, I didn't actually notice the item squish. As we were pulling mobs, health bars were moving just as I'd expect them to, everything was taking damage and everyone was being healed in the manner to which I was accustomed. It was only when I glanced at my character sheet after noticing that my mana regen was good that I noticed: I'd been squished.
Basically, I guess what I'm saying, is don't be afraid of the squish somehow changing the game forever. When Ghostcrawler announced that it was taking place, there was a huge cheer in the conference hall, and the area was abuzz with players who hadn't even noticed. If that's the case, then it's really been done well, and this has.
There are other class changes that have been discussed a lot, too, but from the perspective of a healing shaman, nothing seemed too different. I'm not entirely sure what was in and what was not, so don't feel like I can really offer useful comment!
We were dropped into one of the new zones, with fresh level 90s, and given free rein to explore. The maps weren't working for me, but it appeared from the literature to be Frostfire Ridge. I must admit that I wasn't blown away by the design of the area, as somewhere to be dropped into. It was pretty, for sure, but was also rather similar in overall feel to the Isle of Thunder, and as a result didn't feel that new or shiny.
The brutal nature of the zone, which Ray Cobo compared to Australia, where everything will kill you given half a chance, certainly seemed accurate, and you can see the harsh nature of it from the image above, houses made of bones, spikes on everything -- orcs certainly have a very particular decorating style. But there's a sparse beauty to it, too.
Bloodmaul Slag Mines
This was the first and only dungeon available to us testers in the press room, and as previously mentioned, I grabbed a rag-tag gang, helped enormously by the blood DK sitting next to me looking for a healer, and off we went into the dungeon. The graphical work Blizzard has been undertaking on their player character models has obviously been mirrored by that on the NPC models. These ogres looked great, lumbering around, and I'll get to the player models too.
The dungeon itself was a bit confusing at first, as the panel explained, they're going away from linear progression, which is a fantastic change, but makes running dungeons a little confusing the first time through. We progressed off in a given direction, and took on some mobs. The trash was nothing special, an annoying AoE silence effect was dropped by the mage ogres, and when players had to drop group, bringing us down to three players, we definitely had to CC, but it wasn't really needed with a full group of five. These are leveling dungeons, of course, so bear that in mind.
Rather like Stratholme, clearing one area opened up the next, and so on. Overall, the dungeon felt straightforward, with some minor navigational issues, and there was a real sensation of being transported back to your leveling days when you went in there, thanks to the ogres and the feel of the place. It was fun!
As far as playable character models went, we had only a few available to us: dwarves, orcs and gnomes. All of them male, so as someone who staunchly plays female characters, I had to swallow my pride and make an orc shaman. Right after I'd made a dwarf shaman. The new models are stunning, they really are, the movement on them looks so good after years upon years of their admittedly blocky predecessors. The panelists and Ray Cobo all mentioned the integration of new technology for things like beards, hair and cloaks, and that was really obvious in the dwarf males particularly.
A lot of the animations I love to use for pandaren screenshots weren't in the game just yet, but those that were looked fantastic. It's really obvious just how much work has gone into them, from removing armor clipping to the sheer quality of the textures. World of Warcraft still categorically is not a hyper-realist game, and long may that remain the case, but this is a massive step in the right direction.
What's really remarkable about these new models is just how successful the art team have been in their quest to ensure that the soul of the characters remains. They really are just updated, improved models of the exact same thing, there's no huge, scary changes. Personally, though, I can't wait to see some new hairstyles and beards added, to make use of this awesome new technology!
All in all, I had a great time in the small amount of the new expansion that was playable. I'm looking forward to beta!