Choose My Adventure: On autopilot in World of Warcraft

World of Warcraft

Life as a shadow Priest in World of Warcraft is pretty mellow. Mostly you bounce around from quest to quest and enemy to enemy, ticking off objectives by murdering orcs with dark magic and scaring everyone with your spooky shadow face. It's not a career path I'd recommend for your average citizen, but if you're looking to become an instigator in the clan wars of Warlords of Draenor, there are worse paths to take.

We accomplished quite a bit this week in Choose My Adventure. Our Blood Elf Priest gained a couple of levels, DPSed his very first Warlords of Draenor dungeon, and completed the Frostfire Ridge set of story quests. And while it's all been very, very good, I'm still having a hard time connecting to this latest World of Warcraft expansion.

No, we'll do it

There are a considerable amount of quests in WoD that involve talking to an NPC, running with that NPC to the a given location, and then completing some sort of battle. After the fight, you turn the quest in to the same NPC and start the process again with a new location and new battle. It's an engaging way to deliver quests (I praised it last week, in fact), but it also causes a few frustrations for players like yours truly who prefer to steamroll content so they can get to dungeon territory.

For starters, it removes a lot of the (admittedly limited) freedom questing used to offer -- you can't just run around knocking off quests in big stacks if you're stuck following a group of NPCs and listening to them yell lore at each other. Another issue is that because these events are scripted, you sometimes end up repeating them. Die or pick up an instance queue mid-quest and you'll have to start the event again when you get back. But the final and most annoying oversight is that for the great majority of these grand battles, the NPCs don't need your help all that much. It becomes much more a thing you're watching/participating in than a thing you're accomplishing, and that's a mistake.

The whole issue comes to a head with The Battle of Thunder Pass, an enormous scripted event that closes out the Frostfire Ridge zone. You can tell the event is trying to feel epic, but what it really instills in the player is an immense boredom. Wave after wave of meaningless enemies that are readily killed by your NPC friends and a few forgettable bosses that also don't seem to require much effort on your part don't make for an unforgettable climax. The event, which takes around 15 minutes if I'm clocking it right, is so self-piloted I actually left it running for a few minutes while I took my dog out for quick bathroom break.

I understand Blizzard's story-driven motivation with events like these (the cinematic at the end is super rad), but it's just one more way agency has been taken out of the player's hands. In Warlords of Draenor you're not a legendary hero, just a dude who casts a few spells in a battle these NPCs were probably going to win anyway. The first story quests are also like this, with your killing some guys just before Khadgar shows up and instantly turns everyone to ice (why not open with that?) or killing some guys just before Khadgar shows up and floods the area (why not open with that?). You're a supporting character in a grander scheme, third from the right on the second row in the WoW Class of 2014 school picture.

WoW has always been a themepark, but this is the first time I've felt like I was sitting on rails being shown content instead of actually experiencing it.

Into the slag mines

This week also saw our shadow Priest running his very first instance, the Bloodmaul Slag Mines. The Slag Mines is a five-man dungeon filled with ogres, fire elementals, and four bosses very typical of the World of Warcraft experience. I ran it a few times, and it definitely seems Blizzard put a premium on streamlining the dungeon experience; there's very little trash, and the instance is tight and compact. It's also not very difficult. On my first run, our Death Knight tank pulled several rooms at once and we completed the whole thing in about 10 minutes. A couple of times I didn't even realize we were in a boss fight.

Since the Slag Mines are the first dungeon in WoD, I'm not going to use it to read too much into the expansion's overall dungeon quality. It's possible the other dungeons are more difficult and more interesting. Unfortunately, our instant level 90 priest still doesn't have an item level high enough to unlock the next dungeon, Iron Docks. Hopefully we can check it out sometime this week. On its own, though, the Slag Mines isn't all that compelling. Most of the bosses are straight tank-and-spanks with minor don't-stand-in-fire complications. The one cool encounter is Roltall, who tosses giant flaming boulders at the party that have to be dodged between attacks. The regular dungeon enemies are the same ogres we've been fighting since the vanilla WoW days. It's your basic dungeon 101 stuff.

DPSing was an interesting experience. I haven't DPSed a dungeon since before Burning Crusade, and I've never done it as a Priest. The shadow rotation gets much more interesting when enemies stay alive long enough for DoTs to expire. I can't say that I'm sold on DPSing in my non-CMA time (especially with 30 minute queues -- you guys really deal with those!?), but the WoD priest shadow specialization offers enough complexity and micromanagement to keep the experience interesting. It's definitely deeper than my old raid rotation: frost bolt frost bolt frost bolt frost bolt loot.

I'm looking forward to unlocking a few more dungeons to see what sort of surprises, if any, Blizzard can throw my way.

Keeping it moving

We've got just one more week to play World of Warcraft and not many decisions left to make. But there are still a few things to be decided. For example: I can place crafting stations in my garrison that allow me to learn professions (finally!). How about you folks choose two for me:
Next, it's your final chance to send me into WoW's collection of battlegrounds. If you want PvP in this CMA, you'd better vote for it now:
Finally, I have a few World of Warcraft streams scheduled between now and the end of the year. Vote on what you'd like to see featured in our remaining editions of CMA Live:
And that's that. Get your votes in by Friday, December 26th, at 11:59 p.m. EST. Catch you in Draenor!

Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.