So husband and I finally played through Exile’s Reach yesterday, the new starter zone for World of Warcraft, introduced in the pre-patch for the Shadowlands expansion. It took us a few hours, played at a leisurely pace, with lots of wandering into every corner and, my habit of taking screenshots every few minutes.
The start is very familiar territory for the MMORPG genre, on a ship again, and then ship-wrecked on an unknown island. It is effective if rather tropey. The design of the island is sumptious quite frankly, it is at or beyond Battle for Azeroth design standards, and that is saying something. There’s a lot of detail in the background and foreground of the island as you adventure through it. That’s a good environment to start players in I would say, much better than the dated starting zones of old.
Of course, the effectiveness of this as an attractive tutorial to the game is lost on me, a veteran. I can only imagine what truely new players might think of this. As for an old-hand I still find lots to like. Nostalgia is here in spades, the opponents are like a who’s who of starter zones – including murlocs, quilboar and harpies. The later sections ramp up the tension somewhat with bigger foes and set-piece locations, in feel more like the leveling-story drama of Warlords of Draenor in tone and subject.
In-between though we have an unexpected surprise, a class quest! Some significant work has gone into actually explaining and training players on their class mechanics, viewed through the returned “class base abilities” lens of Shadowlands. Specs come in at the end after returning to the faction capital, but here in the tutorial the emphasis is on the basic abilities and tactics for the class. Not something I need to learn, but in a sense, I found it interesting to watch how my chosen class (shaman) was explained.
The tutorial system needs some tweaking as it is very, very insistant and sometimes wrongly so. For example, I equipped an ability in a secondary bar and it kept insisting that I drag it to my main bar. Equally my husband’s warrior swapped out his character’s shield for a second weapon after unlocking Fury spec and the tutorial system thought he should equip his “new gear” – the shield he had just swapped out…
It is easily silenced from the Interface section of the main menu, though a newer player might not know how to get rid of the screaming yellow windows as easily. But this is one minor grumble in an otherwise positive experience. There is even a short dungeon at the end. Having to pug (queue for a random group) that is a slight negative since there’s no dungeon portal to just walk into, though it is so short that it’s hardly worth worrying about. As one would expect of such early content it would be easy enough to duo or even solo I imagine.
Overall the new starter experience was quick but not too quick. The island was varied and colourful, I’d be interested in seeing the Alliance version next (especially as that will have less goblins). Whether the island will tire on me after the sixth or tenth play-through is another matter, but for now I’m happy with this innovation.