Come with me on a journey through Shadowmoon Valley...
Three weeks ago I shared with you my impressions of the Warlords of Draenor alpha for World of Warcraft's upcoming expansion - focusing on the only new zone available at that time: Frostfire Ridge. Since then the game has moved into beta and Shadowmoon Valley has opened up, and so it is that I write to you now of this amazing location on Draenor.
When in Frostfire Ridge, I spoke of the environment and just how important it is to me as a player that my surroundings compliment the gameplay. Frostfire Ridge exceeded my expectations in so many ways, that it was with some trepidation that I entered Shadowmoon Valley for the first time.
In previously released footage, SMV appeared dark and claustrophobic, with an imposing moon in a star-studded sky that drenched the zone in perpetual night. What I actually found in the Beta was an area of such beauty that I could do little but explore in absolute wonder, marvelling at the size of the zone and the diversity of the land and the lighting.
Shadowmoon Valley is made up of a number of what I refer to as 'sub-zones,' areas within a zone that fit the theme while standing out in their uniqueness. From a grotto-like swamp filled with sparkling flowers and treehouses, inhabited by Botani and swathed in peach light, to the picturesque coastal settlement that looks like it's straight out of a Zangarmarsh postcard, impressive Draenei architecture holds watch over everything, along with vast plains of pearltusk, talbuk and raven.
Karabor is the icing on the Shadowmoon cake, however, as a sprawling city situated on the east coast bearing an abundance of awe-inspiring features under an almost-daylight skybox, such as docks, gardens, statues and water features. Karabor City is what becomes the Black Temple in Outland and was originally outlined by Blizzard as the planned Alliance faction hub in Warlords of Draenor. Unfortunately this plan has been shelved in favor of faction hubs being located in Ashran, the PvP island of Draenor.
Now that I've made it clear that Shadowmoon Valley is the most beautiful zone I have ever seen – did I make that clear? - let's talk about the questing experience. To be fair, the zone has been fairly unstable for the most part, with some quests being unavailable to me due to technical reasons common with a game in beta. What I can say with no hesitation whatsoever is that the quests have a very different feel to those found in Frostfire Ridge.
In FFR, you play as a horde character freeing orc camps that become friendly quest hubs, freeing slaves and slaying ogres. You liberate the Frostwolf clan from their Bladespire overseers leaving nothing but heroic carnage in your wake. When it comes to SMV, you experience more of a variety of quests in terms of storyline, such as collecting ingredients for an antidote, making an area safe for a group of make-love-not-war orcs, and uncovering the Shadow Council spy that has infiltrated the Draenei. Prophet Velen drives the main storyline, enlisting your help in a number of ways that includes a solo scenario in which you witness the iron Horde overwhelming Karabor.
Before I go, a word on the zone's dungeon, Shadowmoon Burial Grounds. Currently a little harder than intended with some placeholder models inside, this instance promises to be a good one, with some interesting boss fights that most definitely bring back the need for group co-ordination and tactics that have to be adhered to - at least, until players out-gear the instance. Ner'zhul is the final boss and, honestly, rounds off the overall experience of Shadowmoon Valley with a feeling of satisfaction that is only disrupted by the lamentation that Karabor is not be the Alliance faction hub.
Penny for your thoughts,
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