So of course before I headed out to BlizzCon, I uploaded my 70 Shaman onto the event realm server, and when I logged in on the event realm, there he was. I was standing on the Zepplin tower in front of Undercity, and a gigantic Murloc costume (specially placed for the event realm) told me to get on the Zepplin and go to Northrend.
Once there, I grabbed a few quests from the starting town, and decided to do one all the way through. "The New Plague" is the one I picked-- apparently the Forsaken had come up with their own plague, and they were trying to unleash it on the Scourge. But unfortunately, the Alliance had hijacked one of their ships, and I was to go to the ships, retrieve 10 plague containers, and return for a reward of around 8g. I headed south to see what I could find.
On the way there, I checked out the landscape-- the Fjord has basically two levels, a lower area where most of the towns are, and then lifts (up into large stone Dragonheads) that go up to the summit of the cliffs, high above the lower shores. It's a combination of Hinterlands and Nagrand, with the darker Autumn colors of Aszhara mixed in.
The other thing I noticed is that open war was going on all around me-- the Forsaken and the Alliance (I saw Humans and Dwarves but didn't see any Night Elves) were duking it out, and I passed through the Alliance camp, only aggroing the mobs when they decided to stop fighting each other. If I wanted to, it seemed like I could run through the battle untouched (much like that cave where the bog lords are fighting the Sporeggar in the southern part of Zangarmarsh). The other cool effect was that I heard the sounds of battle all around me, and Captains of both sides yelled commands back and forth-- I felt like I was in a living, breathing battle.
I made my way to the ship, where the Forsaken forces actually thinned out, and it was just me vs. Alliance, trying to clear a path to the containers. Since the event realm was so crowded, I had to beat a few other players to the containers (flashes of HFP after the BC release), but all in all, I liked the feel of it. Having Forsaken around fighting the Alliance made me feel like I was less alone against the mobs, even if I could waltz right through most of the battle because they were fighting each other.
I had to swim through the water to get to the ship, and I aggroed an "Orca," which looks like Free Willy with tusks. Also, I looted "Fresh Glacier Water" from the mobs (9180 mana over 30 seconds), and "Crusty Flatbread" (7800 health over 30 seconds). And you probably knew it was coming, but in the few minutes I'd been grinding, I'd picked up a stack of "Frostweave." Welcome to the new expansion, same as the old one.
But I never did finish getting all the containers, because a group of guys in the press room needed healer, so I decided to take my resto Shammy to join them in...
Utgarde Keep is the first 5man in Northrend, and it's situated in the southern part of the Howling Fjord (at least I think it's in the southern part-- as Elizabeth noted, there was no world map for the zone yet). It was a little hard to find (for just that reason), so we all set out, after a little begging in world chat (yes, just like Mankrik's Wife) to find it. We headed up the lifts (of which there were three or four coming up from the starting area), and reached the summit.
Up top, things seemed much more open, and I was kind of disappointed to find... boars. What is it with boars and starting areas that Blizzard loves so much? It's a little old, frankly. There were also some other animals, which looked like big buffalo with gigantic tusks (I didn't write the name down, unfortunately). These were situated in groups of about 5, with four neutral mobs, and a larger, aggressive mob in the middle. I should mention that either Northrend isn't tuned yet (which is likely) or it's much harder than even Outland-- level 69 mobs were giving me, a just-under-Kara geared Shaman, a little bit of trouble.
Eventually, we found a building that looked like a keep, surrounded by a bunch of mobs called the Vrykul-- these guys are very much steel, fire, and dragons, and there are Dragonhandlers and even some captured Blue Dragons around to fight. There are the "Viking badasses" that were mentioned this morning, and they are much taller than normal humanoids.
We couldn't find a meeting stone, but eventually we led everyone to the keep, and then stepped inside. Just as we moved in, a dark ranger unstealthed in front of us, and gave us a quest-- we were told to kill Ingvar the Plunderer, and then return to the starting town.
The first pulls went very smoothly-- we'd been told it would be Hellfire Ramparts for 70s, and that it was-- pulls of two or three with no super special abilities. We had two mages, myself healing, a warrior tanking, and a hunter, and had no issues at all with the first few rooms. After killing a few Metalworkers, we came to a bigger room with a flaming forge in the middle-- it shot off three flame walls in different directions that blocked our path (as in our warrior tried to walk through them and couldn't, like normal walls). For each wall, there was a pull of a Forge master, and a few metalworkers, and once these were dropped, the wall disappeared, and the next little chamber opened up.
As the guys dropped, I noted that they were giving up experience (that's right, level 70 and getting experience, although I have to say it wasn't as sweet as being level 60 and seeing that bar grow again), but they didn't give rep. In fact, they didn't drop any loot either, so the tables must not be laid out yet.
In the next room, we found "Trained Proto-drakes," which were Blue dragons (about the size of the two elite dragons before Eranikus in Sunken Temple) and pulled with a Vrykul helper. We sheeped him, took out the dragon, and had no problems.
The room after that featured Strategists (with a few Rogue-ish abilities-- one of them blinded me), and Runecasters (so the Death Knight rune theme is already showing up in these dungeons), who put on a gray-ish, watery shield as they fought. Not sure what it did, but I was able to purge it as a Shaman, and you know I love it when I'm able to purge stuff.
Finally, we came upon the first boss-- Prince Keleseth, a Vrykul Warlock (complete with the Tier 6 armor). We just stepped inside his room, when he emoted something at us, and all of a sudden, four adds jumped us. Fortunately he stayed behind, but considering one of our mages had stepped away before the boss, we had to fight a little bit to get them all down. After that, we drank and ate, and went back in to take the boss.
And instead, he took us. He stepped out throwing shadowbolts (which I Earthshocked away, except he went right back to casting them), and immediately called four to five Vrykul skeletons in to start beating up on us. We assigned the mages to AoE, but it took them a little too long to finish off the skellys, and eventually my healing ran out, and we wiped. I hit the ankh, and we tried one more time, but the skeletons proved too much for us, and we were all being called to another section of BlizzCon, so we called it after the second wipe. If we'd had another chance, I think we could have done it by assigning one mage to the AoE, and putting everyone else on Keleseth, but I'll leave the strategy and tactics up to you guys to decide.
At any rate, I had a good time. The biggest drawback was that it was basically more of the same-- more quests, more levels, and more zones. If you took your character to 70, it'll probably be a lot like taking your character to 80. Blizzard isn't not improving things (if you understand that)-- the layout of the zone definitely got me right into the lore and action of the place, and little things (like putting the questgiver for the last boss of the instance at the beginning of the instance itself) are really helpful and improve the experience.
But in the end, I'm not entirely sure another, better expansion like this is what players want. I heard lots of people clamoring for upgrades to the older dungeons today, and we know lots of people want midlevel content, but Blizzard seems to be saying that they're ready to move on from what we know as the core, now "classic" WoW experience. I have no doubt that for those who make the trip to 80, it'll be a good time. I'm just not sure everyone wants to move on yet as much as Blizzard does.
Update: Whoops, forgot to mention (thanks for reminding me, Suricate)-- we could not use our flying mounts in Northrend. But Blizzard has said they will be able to be used there, they just weren't in the build we played (and it made finding that darn keep even harder).