I logged onto WoW around 8.30 last night without a great deal of enthusiasm, just intending to potter around the auction house a bit and maybe do a couple of quests, to find a guildmate trying to form up a posse to bust Thrall out of Durnholde Keep. Fitting in with the general “bite sized” nature of Burning Crusade instances, they reckoned we could be done within two hours, which sounded like I could still get enough sleep that I wouldn’t need to hook up to an intravenous supply of coffee at work the next day, so we saddled up for Caverns of Time.
After the ease of being able to quickly fly anywhere in Outland from Shattrath, getting back to Tanaris is something of a drag, being about the most awkward place in the old world for the Alliance to get to. After reaching the Caverns, a couple of the group started the quest to gain access to Old Hillsbrad (I’d popped in over the weekend to get the riding crop pattern), which involves following an NPC slowly wandering around the place explaining what’s going on. Much like the introduction to Shattrath quest, where you follow Khadgar’s servant around the city, it’s not very interactive. It’s a bit like a coach trip, with the driver droning “and on your left, you can see the bridge where the Blood Elf attack on the city was halted, we’ll be stopping there so you can pick up your ‘I repulsed the bloody siege of Shattrath and all I got was this lousy tabard’ souvenirs”. It’s a little more interesting than just being given pages of dialogue, and five minutes is hardly the end of the world, but if you’re just in a bit of a hurry (or have done the quest on another character), it might be nice to have a couple of options: “Yes, I’d love to take the tour!” and “Don’t worry, I’ve seen those episodes of Star Trek, and Stargate SG1, and that new Primeval thing on ITV, portals in time, I get the idea, just send me back to Old Hillsbrad already”. As an aside, WoWwiki says “it might be hard to do depending on alliance/horde activity in the cave”, which I hadn’t thought about; doing the quest on a PvP server must be like taking the same coach trip but periodically having to fend off hijackers storming the bus, while the driver’s still pointing out the sights…
Anyway, within half an hour of logging in, we were all ready for the quest itself (which isn’t bad going for WoW). And as far as quests go, I have to say, Escape from Durnholde Keep is a peach, about the most fun I’ve had in Warcraft for a long time. Whether it was the group composition (a feral Druid, Priest, Warlock, Paladin and me as a Rogue), or the fact that we clicked as a team, we didn’t even suffer the Mandatory Initial Wipe (despite trying our best at one point, with runners from one group bringing a couple of adds at the same time that a patrol turned up around the corner). I think it would be fair to say we rocked the socks of the mobs clean off, even if they weren’t wearing socks in the first place (not an easy task, as anyone who has attempted to put socks onto an angry dragonkin just so they can be rocked off again will attest to). Maybe it was our levels, but at 70, 66, 68, 66 and 70 I don’t think we were stupidly overpowered.
What really made the difference, though, was the design of the instance. Up until now, I hadn’t seen much variety in Burning Crusade instances. The settings change, and the mobs you encounter, but by and large they’ve been “Start at point A; defeat many groups of (Orcs/Naga/Broken Draenei/Annoyed Shrews); defeat Boss A; repeat for Bosses B and C”. They’ve been fun enough to run through with a decent group, but not particularly memorable.
Escape from Durnholde Keep actually involves you in the story (minor spoilers follow, if you’re desperate not to know anything of the quest): you start by setting buildings on fire to cause a diversion, luring in the first boss; then you rescue Thrall and fight your way out of the keep, defeating the second boss at the exit as he tries to stop you; then it’s a ride into town for the denouement in the form of a big fight with a dragon. None of this is particularly complex, but it just lifts interest sufficiently so you don’t feel it’s a straight march from A to B, killing everything that moves along the way. The closest parallel I can think of is my favourite bit of an old world instance, the fight on the pyramid steps in Zul’Farrak, where you face off against wave after wave of trolls like a cross between Zulu and the end of The Gauntlet.
Adding such scripted elements isn’t without problem, though; one of our group had previously failed the quest when a vital NPC hadn’t turned up. Others had been in groups where over-eager participants had freed Thrall without everyone having the chance to talk to him to receive the next section of the quest. Fortunately we didn’t hit any bugs, and ensured everyone talked to the right people, but it just goes to show the difficulty of implementing even simple additional elements over “kill stuff!” in instances.
Loot-wise, my standard diatribe on random loot was forestalled by the bosses dropping three useful items. None for me, but I at least got a couple of green bits to sell; the quest reward was a bit of an anticlimax, though, as even with a couple of gems slotted the Southshore Sneakers you can get are worse in almost every respect than the Sure Step Boots I’ve been wearing since my first Hellfire Ramparts run.
Sure enough, we were done in about an hour and a half as well, so the initial two hour estimate was pretty much spot on. A nicely sized instance with a few interesting scripted elements and a good team made for a great evening. Next stop, the Black Morass!