Why I was Disappointed with Uldum

To put the following rant into context, I need to explain why Uldum was the zone I was most looking forward to in Cata, by a very wide margin. Back in the day, when I was still a total noob and I was questing on my baby hunter, I came across an epicly cool questline that started in the final room in Uldaman. If you never did it, it was basically you investigating a bunch of stuff about the titans and where we might be able to find out about them, and this finally led to Uldum. The entrance to Uldum was in Tanaris, and you walked up to this huge gate guarded by elite giants you had to carefully avoid in order to talk to a titan-looking doorman.

And he told you about this titan-laboratory full of awesome secrets, but that you couldn’t get access to it without some more titan discs, and the questline ended with a cliffhanger (and a nice shiny blue item, of course). What exactly was going to be in Uldum, I had no idea, but I really wanted to find out, and I had several alts do the questline because of how cool I thought it was, and I just couldn’t wait to see what was through those huge double doors. As you can imagine, when Uldum was announced in Cata, I was pretty damn excited. So what went wrong?

The first problem was how you entered the zone. Once I was high enough level to go there, I grabbed the starter quest and hopped on my flying mount and flew down into Tanaris where that big secret door sat, ready for something epic. Instead, what I got was flying into the epic door, walking along a corridor, and then meeting a dead end. I realised the quest marker was in a different place in Tanaris, and for no particular reason there was a different entrance into Uldum – a huge corridor that split the mountain range in two. I know the idea was that the titan technology that had covered Uldum had broken, but why go to the effort of closing one entrance and creating another. I had imagined entering in a certain way, and it threw me off when I didn’t get to.

The next problem was the cutscenes. Now, I don’t hate all of the cutscenes like some people have said. While its true that the area uses a lot more cutscenes than other questing zones, it isn’t really an issue most of the time. Cutscenes are a great way of moving a story along and keeping the player entertained while questing. However, some times they just weren’t used well. The first one irritated me simply because it stopped me from flying into the zone myself and taking everything in – instead I was shown a cutscene and then teleported into the zone, so I didn’t get to really see the entrance to the zone. Then there were the cutscenes that just had NPC’s stood talking. I realise that they made them cutscenes so that players would have to sit there and watch, and couldn’t just walk off with their quests and ignore the dialogue. But there’s a reason that a lot of players skip this kind of dialogue – it’s boring. Making it into a cutscene just meant that players bored with the story couldn’t avoid it, and those interested in it had to sit there and watch speech bubbles rather than being able to at least move their character around the NPC’s as they talked, to make it feel like they were involved.

And then we come onto the quests. I don’t mind pop culture references in WoW, in fact I think they’re awesome. They’re a subtle nod to fans of TV shows or movies or songs that most people won’t notice, but those that do can smile or laugh at. The problem with the pop culture reference of Uldum is that it was a less a subtle nod and more a vicious headbutt. By the time I was half way through the zone I was just screaming at my computer ‘YES, I GET IT, ITS AN INDIANA JONES REFERENCE, I GET IT!’ and yet the stuff just kept coming. By the time I reached the Nazi questgiver I was tempted to just give up on the zone entirely. I don’t take any offence to these quests like others have, as I know all they were going for was creating bad guys similar to the ones in Indiana Jones, and the bad guys in IJ are Nazi’s. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not insulted by how stupid they must think I am to name quests ‘Fashionism’ and ‘The Furrier’ in an attempt to get me to notice the reference.

Yes, I understood the reference. I understood it the moment I saw the bad German accent in an Indiana Jones themed zone. Uldum was a test to see if a pop culture reference would work across an entire zone, and I have to say it failed miserably. Rather than subtly playing out certain themes in the zone so that about half way through you notice that there are some similarities to something in the real world, you feel like you’re being bashed in the head repeatedly by it to the point where it makes quests hard to do.

I know not all of the quests involved Harrison Jones in the zone, and the quests involving the Ramkahen were just about a new faction in relation to Warcraft lore. While I enjoyed these quests more, I still think they fell short of what they could have been. The Tol’vir are a very cool looking race, and the first few quests you do in the zone with them are decent – you learn about how they’ve existed in the zone for so long, and you can see how they are being pushed in on all sides and are close to extinction because of Deathwing. However, after this the questline doesn’t manage to meet expectations. The Neferset are never really shown as inherently evil – they simply chose the side in a battle that they thought would win. All the quests involving the leaders feeling unsure about going to war just make the faction look pretty weak (in comparison to the Therazane faction, which make you feel almost insignificant when helping them), and you end up not really caring about the end result of the battle between them and the Neferset.

Oh, and one last thing that’s on my mind – at the start of Uldum you see the Neferset siding with Deathwing by working with Siamat, a servant of Al’Akir who is working for Deathwing. And yet, when you get to the dungeon of the lost city of the Tol’vir, the Neferset have Siamat trapped, and you have to free him before attacking him… When is this ever explained? At no point in Uldum is it stated about how the Neferset turn on Deathwing for their own gain, and when you’re killing all the bosses in an instance anyway, it seems stupid to go to the effort of making a distinction between a race that you’re killing because they’re just bad, and a race that has sided with Deathwing. Either we go in because the place is filled with a race that is serving Deathwing, and one of his minions who is granting the race power, or we go in to stop a race that is holding a prisoner of Deathwing prisoner, because even though they’re now against Deathwing, they’re still evil. It overcomplicates it far too much, when the end result is the same, and its never explained as to why the Neferset turn on Siamat.

Overall I was disappointed with Uldum, but it still had some good points. When the cutscenes were used well, they really worked great in keeping questing interesting. The whole zone is visually gorgeous, and after seeing Vashj’ir I didn’t think there would be another zone in Cataclysm even close to how good that looked, but Uldum managed it. When I go farming for herbs, I always like it when I need Whiptail because I love flying over the zone, it just looks that good. And the very end of the questing, when Brann Bronzebeard appeared out of nowhere and called Harrison Jones Junior, it actually made me laugh. That’s how pop culture references should be done – they should be quick and unexpected. If you took all of the IJ references out of the zone except for the general quest structure and Brann appearing at the end with that reference, it would have worked so much better.

In the end though, it’s good to see that Blizzard is still experimenting with quest design. In the case of Uldum, it didn’t always pay off, but hopefully they’ll learn from their mistakes and continue making fun quest experiences. At least next expansion, I’m not expecting any of the zones, so my expectations won’t be set too high.

/end rant


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