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A Second Chance for the Molten Front

August 23, 2012

I hated the Molten Front dailies.

No, hated isn’t colorful enough of a word.  LoathedDespisedDisdained.  I wanted to burn them to the ground, but Ragnaros probably would have enjoyed that too much.  Stupid Ragnaros.

When I asked the WoW community on Twitter how they felt about the Molten Front a few weeks ago, the overwhelming majority shared my feelings.  Several people cited how long they took to complete (both on a daily basis and to get to the end of the questline), the perils of attempting to do the quests on a PvP server, and the feeling that they were “required” because some of the rewards were so good for current raiding content.

When the Firelands raid and the accompanying dailies were announced, I was pretty excited.  The longer WoW is around, the less likely it seems that we’ll actually get that Emerald Dream expansion people have been speculating about for years.  This, I figured, was the next best thing.  A whole patch will all sorts of goodies about druid lore!  More information about the Druids of the Talon – the druidic branch I’d always imagined Tzufit was a part of when I used to RP her.  And finally, finally some kind of in-game information and resolution to the sad story of Fandrall Staghelm.

The first week or so, I enjoyed myself.  The quests were interesting, after I got over my initial (and huge) disappointment with the patch’s introductory questline which focused on neither Staghelm nor Ragnaros, but instead on Thrall.  I enjoyed how much humor Blizzard had managed to inject into so many of the daily quests – from punting stranded baby turtles into the lake below to my ever-changing entourage of druid friends.

I’m not alone, I brought a couple druids with me! (And this mage dude.)

Really, the odds were with the Molten Front dailies at the beginning.  I’m not on a PvP server, so I didn’t have to deal with the constant ganking that so many others described.  Since my server is small, our Molten Front was busy at peak times but never overcrowded the way it could be on some of the more populated realms.  I also wasn’t overly frustrated by feeling like I “had” to at least hurry up and unlock the vendors.  As a healer, the rewards weren’t quite as essential for me as they were for some other classes, and – again, as a healer – I feel a lot less pressure to min/max when it comes to gear than our DPS often do.

So I was going into the Molten Front dailies ready to enjoy myself.  The weird hiccups in the lore were my first hint that something was rotten in the Firelands, though.  I despised the way that the story of Thrall and Aggra’s marriage hijacked the opening questline.  Some version of that quest might have been better suited to go along with the Dragon Soul patch, since the Twilight Heroics and DS itself are distinctly Thrall’s territory  (for better or for worse).  Staghelm gets his questline, alright, but it comes much later – only after you’ve unlocked both the Druids of the Talon and the Shadow Warden factions.  It’s not a stretch to assume that an exponentially larger number of players got to see Thrall’s questline (probably multiple times as they repeated it on alts to get the iLv 378 cloak) than stuck with their Molten Front dailies long enough to see why Staghelm is the way he is, and how Leyara factors into the story at all.

This, I think, was the biggest internal factor that contributed to much of the bile directed at the Molten Front.  The payoff is too small to take so long to reach.  Really, what new lore do we get from the Molten Front dailies?  Once we make it all the way through the Leyara’s Locket quests, we get to see the events of the War of the Shifting Sands that lead to the death of Staghelm’s son, Valstann.  This lore is not new – it has been described previously in a short story, an in-game book, and in quests in Silithus (though, granted, I’d imagine the story might be new to many who weren’t playing WoW during Vanilla or BC).  The news that Staghelm is a traitor is also not new; if we hadn’t already guessed that from the many hints provided in pre-Cata quests, it is explicitly stated when we quest through Mt. Hyjal.  The return of Ragnaros is not news; we see him attempting to destroy Hyjal from the moment we first fly into the zone.

Ironically, the truly new lore associated with this patch is absent from the Firelands dailies.  How does Staghelm transform from being a grumpy racist, jealous of Tyrande’s political power, to a servant of Ragnaros?  Why does he ally himself with Deathwing and his servents rather than take some other path to villain-hood?  What do the Qiraji, Staghelm’s downfall, the Emerald Nightmare, Deathwing, and the Old Gods have in common?  The Molten Front dailies give us all these pieces, but never manage to connect the dots.  If you want to see the bigger picture, you won’t find it in-game.  As with most things related to Cataclysm’s lore, a novel (Stormrage, in this case) holds all your answers.

This is why I say the payoff simply isn’t worth the effort.  The Molten Front dailies were a fantastic idea in that they were supposed to be a way to introduce significant developments in lore  outside of a raiding environment – meaning that raiders and non-raiders alike would get the opportunity to see WoW’s story develop.  But unlocking each new part of the story was a long slog and only rewarded us with a few obvious revelations at the end.  Beyond  that, the idea that the Molten Front dailies would be equally accessible for both raiders and non-raiders didn’t quite pan out.  For players who weren’t in T11 raid gear when the Rage of the Firelands patch released, the quest mobs could hit surprisingly hard  and had the potential to be deadly if too many were pulled at once.  Although we were occasionally given help from NPCs like the druid friends shown above, this wasn’t true for all the quests.  Without T11 raid gear, and honestly even with normal T11 raid gear, this wasn’t a set of dailies I usually wanted to do alone.

Unfortunately for the Molten Front, one of my biggest personal problems with the zone had nothing to do with the dailies themselves.  The Molten Front was the little brother of the Firelands raid instance and, as such, was guilty by association.

For frequent readers, it’s no shock to hear that I didn’t care for the Firelands raid tier – I’ve written about it before.  While Firelands was an appropriate representation of what the seat of the lord of fire might look like, I hated the monochromatic look of the zone.  I hated how derivative everything felt.  The last thing I wanted, after spending 3-4 nights a week raiding Firelands, was to go back to a zone that looked nearly identical to it every single day.  And, most of all, I hated the Firelands (and, by extension, the Molten Front) because of the gaping hole that raid instance left in my guild.

It’s a completely unfair reason to dislike the Molten Front dailies, but I still can hardly separate the two in my mind.  T11 was a brutal start to the expansion for a casual raid group who was used to making fast work of Heroic ICC.  We lost a few raiders then, but many returned with the release of Firelands to give Cataclysm one last shot.  For a variety of reasons, Firelands was the final nail in the coffin.  Some, like me, hated the environment itself.  Others finally gave up after yet another raiding tier made it nearly impossible for them to DPS on their melee characters.  I don’t know all the reasons that so many people left us during T12, but within the first few months Firelands was available, our raid team had lost a lot of good players.  However irrationally, I blame the raid instance for the loss of my friends and guildmates.

Now, a little over a year removed from those events, I’m somewhat more capable of looking at the Molten Front objectively.  The aesthetics of the zone don’t bother me nearly so much as they used to, and I can even appreciate the beauty of the new Sentinel Tree against the fiery sky.  At my current gear level, hard-hitting quest mobs are a non-issue now; I can generally do an entire day’s worth of Molten Front dailies in about 15 minutes or so.  I’ve once again found myself amused by the bits of humor that can be found in many of the quests.  I enjoy the mini-challenges like King of the Spider-Hill and Master of the Molten Flow that make questing a little more interesting.

What Blizzard (Hopefully) Learned from the Molten Front

Even with a more positive outlook and the fun I’ve had lately revisiting this zone, I maintain that the Molten Front’s primary failure was that it couldn’t manage its most important goal:  provide a meaningful experience of the progression of WoW’s story in a non-raid environment.  The individual phasing and progression (for example, watching the Sentinel Tree grow) was visually impressive but lacked much substance beyond that.

Fortunately, it seems as if Blizzard has taken the lessons of the Molten Front to heart as they consider the function and – dare I say – fun of dailies in Mists of Pandaria.  As with most things related to Mists these days, I’m remaining cautiously optimistic that our experiences with factions like the Lorewalkers or the Order of the Cloud Serpent will really make the most of those elements of phasing and personal progression that Blizzard experimented with in Cataclysm.

I’m crossing my fingers that Blizzard has also learned that, while having a uniform concept for a patch may be interesting thematically, asking players to spend both raiding time and questing time in environments that are visually identical can make things get really boring really quickly.  From what I have seen of the Mists daily hubs so far, they seem to be spread out across Pandaraia and should provide us with a variety of environments from which we can choose.

Personally, I’ll be heading for whichever faction hates fire the most.

What was your experience of the Molten Front dailies?  Have you revisited the zone recently and, if so, do you feel differently about it now than you did when it was current?  What could Blizzard do to make your experience of daily quests more fun?  How do you think advancements in lore should be dealt with in-game?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2012 7:52 am

    I still haven’t finished my dailies, not even on The Rogue, which I’m disappointed about only because I wanted the mount. Maybe I’ll go back someday.

    I wonder whether part of your antipathy was also the Chase Christian Incident?

    • August 28, 2012 8:12 am

      I think that, to the extent that Chase Christian was an influence, it was more about the way that incident exemplified what I thought was wrong with the WoW community at that time. The new focus on solo-play (eventually culminating in the release of LFR) was both exciting, as it meant a lot of players would get a chance to see content they couldn’t have before, and infuriating because we could already see the effects it was having on a traditional guild structure. Christian’s post just further demonstrated what can go wrong when WoW players can’t be assed to think of anyone but themselves, and treat the rest of the community like NPCs rather than human beings.

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