Dranei First Impressions

20 Jan

As I previously posted, I ended up actually getting The Burning Crusade installed on launch day and logged into play. Since I didn’t have a high level character on the server where I game with a small regular group of friends, I thought I’d go ahead and see what the Dranei had to offer.

To be honest, I didn’t really expect much. In recent weeks, I had seen the some of the NPC cloven hoofed, squid faced aliens loitering about Azeroth but was rather ho-hum about them. “So they get to be Shaman huh? Whatever.” Worth rerolling another alt (even for chronic alt-itis sufferer)? Novelty item. Outland is where the action will be.

Fortunately, first impressions are often wrong and I had sold Blizzard short on what the Dranei Experience had to offer.

Squid Head

At the character creation screen, no real surprises. If character creation takes more than 2 or 3 minutes in WoW, you might want to check your pulse. Lets face it, this is one of WoW’s many Achilles’ heels. Its also one of its secret strengths. Users are not overwhelmed by choices (I’ll say) so they get into the game quickly and the limited number of models and textures dramatically reduces hardware requirements, improving performance.

The BIG news for Alliance side players is the addition of the Shaman class available only to the Dranei. The addition of this class alone to any of the existing races would have been cause for celebration enough, but I suppose Blizzard wanted to make sure that the Dranei had a killer app in the form of a unique class to fuel the Dranei’s success.

Launch day certainly found the Crash Site littered with dozens of young shamen. Ever the iconoclast, I decided I’d roll something else– this time a hunter named Sarnoc. The Dranei home area occupies a newly available set of islands off the west coast of Kalimdor and is accessible to other races by boat from Auberdine for those with the expansion.

One other note, the Dranei voices and emotes are very eastern Eurpoean. Or at least eastern European as perceived by Americans probably living too near Hollywood. The Dranei sound like a cross between Borat, Pavel Chekov from Star Trek and Boris and Natasha from Bullwinkle. Still, they are amusing in the same way that the other Blizzard race archetypes are.

One nice item, the Dranei have an innate racial heal over time ability with a reasonable cooldown time that many starting players should find helpful and it scales as you level.

The Noob Zone

After the obligatory introductory video, Sarnoc zoned into the noob zone called the Crash Site to find literally dozens of other new Dranei stacked up on the zone point. Before I took a step, I looked around at the spectacle before me. Hundreds of new Dranei running too and fro gloriously pummelling small furry flowering snarling things into dust. Not exactly immersive, but a fun spectacle nonetheless.

I didn’t play on the original launch date, but Northshire Abbey, Coldridge Valley and Shadowglen must have been something similar. Who knows, maybe not nearly as bad. The original WoW launch didn’t have 8 million subscribers in the can waiting for its launch…

A quick note on “lore.” The Dranei have a bit of a unique story and I was quite surprised at how well Blizzard integrated the crashed castaway space alien story into the existing Warcraft story line. Likewise, in typical Blizzard fashion, their story and style are tightly integrated into the early noob zone experience: the Dranei are stranded crash survivors, get to work aiding survivors and getting your society back on the offensive.

Even tough crowded, Blizzard seems to have implemented a dynamic spawn rate in anticipation of the hordes (no pun) of new characters to be created in the Blood Elf and Dranei starting zones. After having visited the other side of the dark portal, its clear that something is afoot because there is no way ordinary static spawn rates could keep up with the onslaught of new characters. But even with that, the ranged classes were still at an advantage in the noob zone able to ninja needed spawns before the lumbering melee classes could close the distance. Still with dozens of characters on screen, no appreciable lag.

The Dranei follow the now familiar Blizzard guided quest track to equip your young character and learn basic skills. I still wish Blizzard would implement some kind of progression quest to avoid these early noob quests. Some of the lore provided is interesting, but I suspect many new Dranei are simply the nth alt started by experienced players. I would rather complete a learn about the Dranei quest to escape the noob zone than run through the usual kill-ten-rats and fedex quests.

We quickly completed the noob quests and headed out to the next area following the oh so helpful go-see-a-guy-somewhereelse-quest.

If you were a tree…

Most of the lowbie quests are the usual 1-10 fair wrapped in a Dranei package. Fresh enough to be entertaining, but still rather utilitarian covering familiar ground. The one whimsical exception is a quest chain that involves intrigue and treachery between a gnome faction and goblins. One step requires donning a disguise as a tree to overhear a conversation. Without providing any more detail, suffice it to say, this was amusing and a welcome departure.

The Exodar

As we neared level ten, we progressed nearer and neared the Dranei home city, The Exodar. The Exodar is the remains of the Dranei ship that crashed where it lay and forms the structure in which the city sits. Here is where the one can appreciate the depths to which Blizzard applied its highly stylized aesthetic. Simply put, the The Exodar is like no other city in Azeroth. It departs from the primarily fantasy stone castle feel for a distinctly sci-fi theme. Transparent walkways, holographic statuary and flowing light effects in abundance definitely give the place a completely new feel and yes I did get the impression that this was a ship rather than a terrestrial building.

I found myself just walking around gaping at the place. If you have no other interest in the Dranei, I would pay a visit to the Exodar for the experience.

Generally the city itself is laid out more in the fashion of Ironforge rather than Stormwind or Darnassus making navigation easy with most areas of interest arrayed in sub zones around a central hub. Conveniently there is a side door that leads to the main dock with connects to Auberdine.

Bottom line

So far, I’m pretty amused with the Dranei. They are still somewhat of a novelty to me, but for someone with alt-itis I’ll probably continue to play my Dranei from time to time. Eventually I’m sure I’ll roll a Shaman to play the class on the alliance side, but I think I’ll wait til the line goes down a bit.

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Posted by on January 20, 2007 in World of Warcraft



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