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Hyjal vs. Vashj’ir

December 10, 2010
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Cataclysm, much like Wrath of the Lich King, offers two choices for initial starting zones for level 80-82 players.

Mount Hyjal is the location of the orignial World Tree, Nordrassil, and was the central area of culture for the night elves before Archimonde attacked it during the Third War.  Now, a group of druids known as the Guardians of Hyjal as well as members of several of the dragonflights are guarding Nordrassil and overseeing its healing.  Their job just got a lot harder, however, since Deathwing disrupted pretty much everything in the elemental plane on his way out of Deepholm, including RAGNAROS, LORD OF THE CAPS LOCK BUTTON!!1!  As one might expect of the elemental lord of fire, Ragnaros has decided to wreak havoc on his surroundings.  Lusting for a supply of firewood that would outlive even him, Ragnaros sets his sights on destroying Nordrassil.

Vashj’ir, as the name implies, was once the Highborne city home to Lady Vashj (this would both the elder and younger Lady Vashjes – the mother of the naga we fought in Serpentshire Cavern during Burning Crusade was the leader of Vashj’ir).  The city fell into the Great Sea during the Sundering, and this began the course of events that would lead to the transformation of the Highborne into the naga.  Now, adventurers have discovered that the city is not extinct as they once thought, and that the naga living there are hellbent on stealing a weapon of immense power from Neptulon, the elemental lord of water.  The naga of Vashj’ir are willing to go to any lengths, and ally themselves with anyone – regardless of how obviously bad of an idea it is to do so – in order to get what they want.

So for those of you who haven’t begun to level yet, where will you begin?  For those who are already past these zones, where will you take your army of alts when it’s time for them to level?  I have a few thoughts below the break.

First, beyond any discussion of the practicalities of either zone, it must be said that Vashj’ir is stunningly beautiful.  The amount of thought and time that Blizzard put into its design is extremely evident.  If you have a decent graphics card at all and if it will not cause your computer to spontaneously combust to do so, I highly recommend turning up your graphics and especially water settings while you’re here.  I promise you, it will be worth it.  If you do nothing else after, at least quest through Vashj’ir enough to get the Visions of Vashj’ir Past achievement on one of your characters.  The lore and the fun of the quest mechanics are really not to be missed.

Sadly, though, I have to admit that for as much as I enjoyed my time in Vashj’ir, it is by far the less efficient questing experience for an 80 stepping into Cataclysm content.  While both zones give the night elves an incredible amount of lore-love and thus shouldn’t really be missed by anyone who plays one, questing in Vashj’ir is an extremely long process in comparison to Hyjal.  Though Blizzard went to great lengths to ensure that underwater questing is no longer the headache it used to be (for all other classes – we druids were always ahead of the curve),  Vashj’ir is still an enormous zone that requires a ton of travel time while you’re questing.

I’ve seen several posts on various WoW blogs complaining about the 3D nature of Vashj’ir being another reason why it’s difficult to quest there.  While I don’t disagree with this, I think we’re kind of forgetting a few things.  Even in Vanilla WoW and prior to Cataclysm in the Old World, the underground cave systems in every zone added a 3D element to your questing, and were something you had to get used to as you were learning the mechanics of the game.  Since Burning Crusade and the advent of flying mounts, every zone has been (to one extent or another) in three dimensions.  The difference with Vashj’ir is that there can actually be meaningful content on two different levels in the same area.

Let me clarify that.  In Deepholm, for example, you will deal with questing on terrain with variable heights.  But if you have a quest objective that’s on the lowest part of the floor there, then you’re unlikely to have a questgiver who is directly above you on an outcropping.  It helps you remember what you’re doing – “Ok, in this part of Deepholm the action is happening on the top level, but to the east of here it’s on that plateau in the middle” – and saves you the wasted time of checking every possible level for whatever it is you need.  In Vashj’ir, you may pick up a quest from an NPC who’s inside of one of the recessed caves, and then be sent to kill mobs who are swimming around in the coral directly above that cave.  This is both incredibly immersive and a huge pain in the neck; it’s this kind of attention to detail and design that makes the zone so impressive.  The idea of having these little air pockets created inside of the caves is very cool – except when you’re swimming back to it for the 20th time and still can’t remember if it’s around this turn or the next.  Sure, there are faction banners outside of the cave entrances to give you a visual cue – but you still have to find those banners.

For gathering nodes, I’d imagine (my druid has two crafting professions, so I haven’t had much chance to look into this yet) that Mt. Hjyal would be much less frustrating for the same reasons.  I can only imagine running across an ore node marked on my map somewhere in Vashj’ir and then having to guess just how high or low I need to swim in order to mine it.  Reputation is a toss up between the zones; finishing all the quests in Hyjal with get you to Revered with the Guardians, and (now, with yesterday’s hotfixes) Vashj’ir should do the same for Earthen Ring.

Personally, I’ll be leveling my alts through Hyjal and then moving on to Deepholm from now on.  I absolutely loved the lore and the design of Vashj’ir, and I imagine that someday I’ll come back to it on another character.  But for efficient leveling, and especially for the upcoming alts with their gathering professions, I’m pretty sure that Hyjal is the way to go.

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