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BlizzCon 2009: The Guild's Michele Boyd and Jeff Lewis Worgen hands-on

Mike Schramm

Sitting in a convention booth all weekend at BlizzCon can actually be a pretty boring prospect. Sure, it's probably a lot of fun meeting people, and sure, unlike a certain team of bloggers, you're probably not run off your feet trying to gather up tons of pictures and information and experiences to write about. But think about it: you're in a booth, signing pictures and DVDs, stuck in the same 20 square feet all weekend long, with all of the promise of BlizzCon around you but just out of reach.

Such, we imagined, was the plight of the cast of The Guild last weekend at BlizzCon, so when we heard that Michele Boyd (who plays "stupid tall hot girl" Riley in the show) and Jeff Lewis (who plays the singular Vork) both had 80s in the current game, we decided that instead of doing a normal boring interview with them, we'd give them a break: we'd take them over to the World of Warcraft: Cataclysm playable demo and let them have a go at the brand new Worgen starting area. It was the least we could do, given that they hadn't had any time to play yet.

And in return, they gave us their impressions of the new starting area, had some fun finding kids in a cornfield, and talked about how and why they play the game. Read on for more.

They actually had more signing to do later in the day, so Felicia Day gave us a strict limit of 30 minutes of playtime as we left The Guild booth to head over to the playable Cataclysm area. While we walked, Jeff and Michele filled me in on where they're at in the game right now: Jeff plays a Night Elf Warrior at level 80, and he also plays his wife's 68 Human Mage, while Michele plays an 80 Draenei Enhancement Shaman -- she hasn't laid down the cash for a dual spec quite yet, but she will eventually have the option to go resto. Neither one, unfortunately, has much time to go raiding, so it's mostly daily quests and Heroic instances for them -- Jeff has been working on tanking Violet Citadel lately, and Michele will do whatever they can get a good group for.

We walked into the playable area, and my press pass got us past the line, though we had to wait a few seconds for a couple of computers to open up. We talked about BlizzCon while waiting. Michele had just played the 3D version of World of Warcraft running in the Nvidia booth, and while I said I'd heard it was a bit laggy, she said it ran fine -- "you can sign in and play your own character and everything. I was saying hi to people in the guild. Like what's up Scutterbutt! Totally, it was cool." Jeff really enjoyed stopping by the Steelseries booth, and liked their WoW-based keyboards. "Push a /whisper button. There's buttons for all the things you want to do in WoW." I asked if he got his check from Steelseries yet for namechecking them in the interview. "No, but I want to see if we can get a product placement for them, it's really cool."

We sat down to play the Worgen -- Michele had played the Goblin starting area the day before, but neither of them had seen the Worgen intro yet (Jeff had been told to look for "a quest with horses in a house," but we weren't sure which starting area that was in). First up, they created and named their characters on the test server at the show -- Jeff went with Vork, and I told him that our own Alex Ziebart had asked me to beg for more Vork twittering. "I know," he said. "It takes a lot of thinking. It's not like, Felicia can say 'I just had two eggs.' I've gotta write something clever."

"I just named myself Riley," said Michele, though both Worgen were male, as that's all you could create at the show. The demo begins at level six, and there's a little starter quest with your worgen in a pillory, while other humans in Gilneas are trying to come up with a cure for "the curse." You click through a few quests that explain all of this, and then the final click gives you a potion that brings you back out of Worgen form and releases you from being locked up. Michele liked it, and said the Goblin starter area, which begins with a violent shipwreck, had a similiarly interesting kickoff quest: "You were dead, and they were trying to revive you with starter cables."

A few clicks later, they found the ability to switch between the Worgen and human form. I explained that whenever you drop into combat, you keep your Worgen form on no matter what, but out of combat, you can switch between them as you please. "That's cool!" said Michele as she saw the animation. "That's way cooler! They finally gave Alliance the cool race!"

Another quest sent them into the small town of Duskhaven to check in with a supervisor, and once they got there, they were able to loot a "Red BlizzCon Bag" -- none of the loot for the area has been finalized yet, so instead, you can loot a bag with a green or blue in it (and there was even a contest going on for a rare item found inside one of the bags). Jeff got a little lost, and instinctively pulled up the quest log, which has an extra window on it since patch 3.2. "I love this new thing, too. So smart." They wandered trying to find each other for a little bit, and when I reminded them that they could invite each other into a group, that made things a bit easier.

Outside of town, they ran into their first enemies -- Forsaken have landed on the shores of Gilneas, and their invasion is pushing the Worgen into a pact with the Alliance. Michele didn't recognize their ships, so I asked if they got into the lore as they played. "A little bit," they both said almost simultaneously. "There's a couple of people in the guild who are really, really well versed in it," said Michele.

The first quest out of town doesn't actually get you into any combat right away -- it does show a cinematic that explains a little bit of what's happening between the Forsaken and the Worgen, but once it does that, it sends you back into town without fighting, which we found kind of boring. While they traveled back, we talked about what the zone itself looked like -- the Worgen have a very interesting architectural and cultural style that you've probably seen in the videos and pictures on the site already. "It's very Edgar Allan Poe, I like it," Michele observed. Someone earlier in the con had mentioned Tim Burton to me, and I passed that on to her. "Yeah, but you still have ivy growing on the walls, it's not 'Sleepy Hollow' or anything." Victorian was another word that had been passed around. "That's it," said Jeff, "Victorian."

Michele was clicking through the quests quickly, and so I asked if she did something I always do: skip most of the quest text until I have to go back and read it in the quest log. "I do [read the quests] most of the time. I didn't until I started getting those quests where it's like 'listen to the guy's story' and you already left." By this time, she had found her way back out of town, and was taking out Forsaken with the Worgen Druid she had rolled. "I got my Moonfire back," she said excitedly. "I miss my Druid."

Meanwhile, Jeff talked about working on professions in the game. "With Vork, he's a blacksmith/miner, so I really love getting that up to 450, and also during the expansion, getting the newest plans. They came out with a plan every now and then and it's kind of a challenge. Some of the plans required a bit of upping my rep in some areas." I told him that I was also trying to level mining (I have a Paladin that I'm leveling up for Engineering), and I thought it had been a real pain to level up. "It was a pain. Mining though, and of course it's on my server, I made a lot of gold. And so I used that to buy materials or try to up skills. It was really expensive, but the mining, I just can't believe -- it wasn't a problem getting a flying mount with him. Especially as an actor, you have a lot of free time" -- Michele laughed -- "so time that people wouldn't normally be on the server, you can spend mining alone."

Most of Michele's gold comes from daily questing. "I've been trying to do a lot more of the Argent Tournament things. I wanted to get exalted with all of the factions." So what did she think of jousting? "I hate it. I've gotten better at it, so that's helped a lot." Probably lots of players out there who agree with that sentiment. I asked her if she tried the jousting in the 5-man Trial, and she said yes. "That one's actually pretty fun because you've got everyone jumping in at the same time. Part of the problem is, especially if they're not focused on you, then it's a lot easier to hit them, and you can just kind of stand back and Shield Break the whole time. In a group it's definitely much better."

One of the Worgen quests had them finding barrels of gunpowder, and then tossing them on the heads of invading Abominations, where they exploded in a splash of gore after saying a characteristically silly throwaway line. "Oh, that's funny," said Michele when she blew the first one up. Jeff had some trouble finding an un-tagged Abomination, given how busy the server was, but Michele was able to nab a bunch of gunpowder barrels ("Oh good, they are stackable," she said, after picking them up two at a time) and toss them with reckless abandon on the heads of Abominations, giggling as she did. "God knows when I was leveling the very first time, Stitches? Frickin' hated him. I guess they nerfed him a little bit but he was like frickin' 31 elite, and meanwhile everyone in the zone is 18."

She had played both Goblin and Worgen, and I asked what her plans were for the expansion at this point, far off as they may be. "I think I would probably reroll a Worgen. I haven't really been interested in leveling another character yet, because I want to get mine to where I feel comfortable raiding and she's not an embarrassment to my guild. But I like this -- it seems like there's a whole other story aspect to it."

A few other quests later (Michele doing most of the work, and her Abomination explosions counting for Vork's quest as well), they ended up in a barn cellar, where they got a quick quest to go up to a cornfield and save three kids running around in the middle of the Forsaken invasion. Time was almost up, but we decided that we couldn't leave without making sure these kids were safe, so the two of them went hunting around for Cynthia, Ashley, and James. They were actually pretty hard to find, and Jeff remembered something he'd heard from meeting Blizzard developers the night before: "Greg, the designer, was saying that they'd made the cornstalks too tall, taller than the orphans, so it was too hard to find the kids. I didn't know what they were talking about until right now." Michele finally found one -- to complete the quest, you just had to go up to the kid, say something to them, and then they'd disappear, presumably heading back down to the safety of the cellar. Jeff found another one, but right before he could click it, another player swooped in and stole the click, making the kid disappear. "Oh no," he said. "They got him. That's bull****."

"There's James!" Michele exclaimed -- she ran over, clicked the kid, and she leveled at the same time. "Is there one more?" asked Jeff. There was, and they went off to find it. They came upon a farm near the cornfield, and there was a brand new model there: Mastiffs, the first actual dog I'd ever seen in World of Warcraft. It's only ever been cats and wolves until now, but sure enough, there was an actual dog model. "That's actually a really cool looking dog," said Michele. "Why is the world shaking?" Apparently the Forsaken invasion causes periodic earthquakes in Duskhaven.

"Ashley!" Michele called, as they looked for the last orphan. "I have a friend named Ashley," said Jeff. "This could be her. There's Cynthia [who was one of the orphans they'd already found for the quest]. I'm going to rescue Cynthia again," he said, and he ran over to click on Cynthia just as another player was about to, getting his revenge for what had happened earlier. "It was a dick move. It was totally a dick move, man. I don't care. I'll do it again, too. There's James -- watch, I'm going to screw somebody over, man," as he clicked another kid away from a player who needed it for a quest. "I don't get to find Ashley, you don't get to find Ashley!"

Michele found a catapult and clicked it. "I'm on a catapult," she bragged in a singsong voice as it flung her out onto one of the Forsaken ships. "Wheee!" she said. "But we're still trying to find Ashley," Jeff insisted. "You go find Ashley," Michele replied. "I'm catapulting myself onto a ship. I found my two orphans."

A few more minutes of searching yielded nothing. Michele got the idea to ask in General. "Where the heck is Ashley," she typed. "Someone will answer me. 'This is Riley from The Guild," she joked about punching into the chat, "where the hell is Ashley?!'" "In the building," came the reply from chat, and she laughed. "People are not being that helpful. What building?"

Finally, Jeff ducked into a farmhouse, and there on the second floor was indeed Ashley herself. The children were safe. "The children are our future, you know," Jeff deadpanned. And now we had one. Children safe, day saved, we headed back to The Guild booth.

The third season of The Guild, in which both Jeff Lewis and Michele Boyd star, premieres today on MSN and Xbox Live. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm is targeted for a 2010 release date.

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