Waiting for Winter in World of Warcraft

Cataclysm

A couple guys in my guild got into a Ventrillo debate this afternoon about where to find the best winter-themed areas in World of Warcraft. With it finally snowing here in Michigan and the occasional holiday song percolating in my iTunes playlist, I'm in the mood for scenery like frosted pines and ice-glazed castle parapets.

Instead, I'm stuck surfing mustard-haze jungles with chirruping bugs, flying snakes, and ruin-littered pools that put me in mind of books like Scott Smith's The Ruins (think Little Shops of Horrors meets The Vampire Diaries) or films like Apocalypse Now.

Start Me Up

I'm a lowly level 55, which used to be a lordly level 55 back in 2004 before Blizzard went and knocked the ceiling off the game. That means I'm currently restricted to areas that either look like Mordor, the set of that silly 1982 Swamp Thing movie, or a gunk-covered map swarming with Zerg in StarCraft II.

There's hanging out around Dun Morogh, but that's all entry level Troggs and Snow Leopards and Ice Trolls. No PvP sniping or luring over a couple level 50-something dragon kin to shake up the zone demographics.

Scanning an atlas, Icecrown Citadel in Northrend looks like the obvious contender, but then my Vent group begs to differ.

"Dude, even though Icecrown has 'ice' in its name, there's not really ice there," says one of the guys over my headset.

"Are you high?" says another. "It's all over Northrend. Haven't you been to Storm Peaks?"

"No way, it's all mostly buildings and crap."

"Man, check it out, there's so much snow, it's where they filmed The Empire Strikes Back."

I let them bicker and do a search on 'Storm Peaks'. It sounds promising. You've got Storm Giants and Wendigo on the mob list. And there's that Wendigo character in the X-Men books. He's from Northern Canada, which is really just a euphemism for "Arctic Circle."

But I still have miles to go before I'm poking my nose around the Lich King's haunts. Northrend's for players in the high 70s according to the leveling guides. I'll probably hit 70 sometime next week if I'm lucky, which is really just a euphemism for "if my wife lets me."

Speed Me Up

In the meantime I'm paddling around Atal'Hakkar, a pyramidal temple with plumbing issues. It has one of those initial rite-of-passage moments where you swim under a wall and resurface in an interior pool. Very birth-metaphor. The torches never go out, of course, and the floors and ceilings glow aquamarine. Where do you quarry aquamarine stone? Who knows, but it looks appropriately cool--unlike an actual ancient temple, which of course wouldn't have everlasting torches, and you'd probably describe as "pitch-black."

The last few patches were supposed to streamline the questing process, which they have, speaking as a guy who's leveled through a bunch of changes. You can solo pop much faster than before and sew up a zone in a couple hours. Quest-givers congregate at the start of instances instead of all over the map, making it easier to turn stuff in, and the zone maps have been completely redrawn to help you better gauge where things sit. You can even turn in some chain quests using telepathy. That's not what Blizzard calls it, but when you finish part of a quest chain, the quest-giver pops in, says a few words, then ushers you on to part two or three or four.

So I'll keep playing, if only to see what PvP's like from level 80 on. The guys in my guild tell me that's where the game really begins, which if true, would explain why Blizzard's suddenly made it so much easier to get there.

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