Monday night, the next stage in events leading up to the Wrath of the Lich King expansion started. The Herald of the Lich King unleashes attacks on the Horde capital of Orgrimmar and the Alliance capital of Stormwind. For 15 minutes or so, undead frostwyrms fill the sky over part of the capital (Valley of Honor in Orgrimmar, the Harbor in Stormwind) while massive abominations—Frankenstein’s monster-style construct—roam the ground. Champions of the faction lead the battle, so that players’ characters fight alongside Thrall or Varian Wrynn and other prominent NPCs. I haven’t yet checked out the Alliance version, but the Horde one comes wrapped in some fun dialogue and developments, with Horde leaders arguing restraint versus boldness in taking the fight to the Lich King, an argument that escalates to a full-blown duel, and the decision to take the offensive made out in public where everyone gets to see it. The event plays out several times an hour.
This is, for me, exactly what I want in a big in-game event, and in light of previous discussion, I’m gonna poke at what I like about it.
Last time out, I laid out the standard of chosen, discoverable challenge.
Chosen: The attack takes place in one district of one city on each side. There are plenty of zone-crossing yells to alert potentially interested players, but you can avoid the thing entirely if you skip that district. Furthermore, it doesn’t drag in anyone who chooses not to fight.
Discoverable: The whole sequence is only fifteen minutes or so long. Players have time to see it from several different angles, and to interact with it in different ways. And then it’s done, and there’s some breathing space in which the normal business of the valley carries on.
In retrospect there’s a third feature I left out:
Net Gain: Part of the problem I had with the zombie plague was that there was no particular payoff, if you didn’t feel like helping gank bystanders. You’d struggle and struggle to maintain the status quo, and the very best you could do is break even. The capital assault, on the other hand, lets players fight right alongside some of the best and most famous leaders in their characters’ faction. There’s no loot to be had, but the fight is fun and challenging, and it’s a brand new experience to be thinking, “Wow, who’s this tough guy alongside me? I don’t place the armor...wait, that’s Garrosh Hellscream.” There’s not much risk in this particular event, but I know I’m not alone in being willing to run a great deal more for the sake of such well-delivered coolness. That’s danger with the element of escape mixed in.
My understanding is that the design team aims for more such moments, with characters in the upper levels cast as known and deserving heroes, based on the exploits they’ve gone through to get there. It’ll be interesting to see what of this works and doesn’t.
Now to go perch by the front door and wait for the delivery people to bring me my copy of Wrath of the Lich King.