If you asked me what was the most fun area in WoW I would without hesitation say that it is probably the newbie location for Death Knights. Why? Because it is not static. You see, most of the world of Warcraft never, ever changes. Let me give you a quick example. When you start a Tauren character, one of the first quest chains you encounter will have to do with the Venture Company: a malevolent goblin trade organization. They are pretty much textbook Captain Planet villains: their business model seems to revolve around polluting, and destroying natural environment. As a nature loving Tauren your mission is to stop them. But no matter what you do, the will never go away. Every time you kill one of them, he will re-spawn within a minute or so. This is of course done in order to enable other people playing the game to pick up the same quests. But it also makes it difficult to care about the ongoing narrative. Nothing you do ever has any impact on the world.
Most MMO’s are this way, so eventually you just get used to it. Wrath of the Lich King however breaks away from this model. When you start playing a Death Knight character, you begin in an instanced shard of the world and almost every quest introduces new changes to the environment. At first you are sent to do few introductory tutorial missions. Then you participate in a raid against a human town. Eventually, as you progress through your quest you can see human defenders falling back, until the town falls. The fields are deserted, the buildings are empty and Lich King’s minions are everywhere. The whole quest chain is very immersive and very engaging. Most of the time when you play WoW story and narrative are at best tangential to what you are doing. But in WotLK newb areas they are what actually drives you. The only other parts of WoW which has similar story driven setup are certain instances – but since you usually end up grinding those many, many times they lose a little bit of their charm.
Unlike instances however the Death Knight areas still offer full blown MMO experience. Each time you complete a quest, you are phased to new “sub-instance” and the story progresses. You are still free to interact with players who are in the same phase (ie. at the same point in the chain quest). To keep things clean however you don’t actually see the players who are behind you or ahead of you with their progress.
If you consider that a flaw, think about this: the newbie areas in WoW are usually completely deserted. If you are lucky there will be one, maybe two low level players there trying to complete the introductory quests. And they almost never will be advancing at your pace anyway, because they are either seasoned players who want to speed through this segment as fast as possible, or newcomers who will want to stop every few minutes to read the tutorial pop-ups and just look around exploring the game world. So so this mechanic works perfectly for introductory areas.
I had so much fun being a newb Death Knight that I blew through all the quests in less than two hours, and was disappointed when the game threw me back into regular non-phased world. It is almost a shame that Blizzard hides away this sort of game play from new players. You can’t create a Death Knight character until you have a high level character on the same realm for example. And the only other places where phases are used are in the very high level areas of Northend which means most players just starting with WoW won’t see them for months.
Because of my experience with WotLK I’m actually a little bit intrigued by Guild Wars 2 which actually promises to make this sort of thing a core game play mechanic. I’m pretty sure you have seen this video already but let me post it again:
They are pro promising to make an MMO that plays like no other MMO out there. Can they pull it off? I think they can. I mean, they already had something similar to this in the original Guild Wars. Your actions really did affect the game world at certain junctions. But at the same time, most of GW was instanced. GW2 is supposed to have a more conventional, persistent world. But since Blizzard managed to pull this sort of thing off on a very small scale with parts of WotLK I’m sure that ArenaNet can do it too. If they can take the same approach and crank it up to 11, we can have a very, very interesting game on our hands. An MMO in which quests do not suck. An MMO in which what you do really affects the game world. Granted, I doubt that GW2 will be able to threaten WoW’s position in any way. But, I might actually get it when it comes out just to see how they tackled this issue.