Updated Wed, Sep 15, 2010 by Messiah
Looking around in the zone, you can tell the Blizzard team pulled from many different reference materials to make a varied and flavourful underground realm. At times it feels like you’re in a scene from Journey to the Center of the Earth, at other times I am reminded of the very bad Spider-Man cartoon of the 70’s where he is swinging through the underground and the background stalactites and stalagmites keep repeating every 3 seconds (in a good nostalgia kind of way), at other times it is completely new ideas (or maybe ones I am just unfamiliar with). The effects throughout the zone are top notch.
The core storyline in the zone revolves around restoring the World Pillar that lies within the Temple of Earth. This pillar bears the weight of all of Azeroth and was shattered when Deathwing broke into the World. If players are not able to restore it soon, all of Azeroth could be doomed. While it would seem to be in everyone’s best interest to see the pillar restored, there is a hidden faction attempting to prevent its repair. You’ll have to find out more as you complete the zone when Cataclysm launches.
The zone of Deepholm rests underneath the Maelstrom and below the Skywall. It is technically another elemental plane, one of earth and not really on Azeroth as such. The first time you try to get there you must talk to the shamans in either Stormwind or Orgimmar and they will start by sending you to a ledge near the Maelstrom where you get a quest to fly into it. This starts a cut scene showing you enter the Maelstrom and crashing into Deepholm.
Once you have done a few quests in the zone you will gain access to portals back to the real Azeroth above and your main cities: Stormwind for Alliance players and Orgrimmar for the Horde.
The most prominent feature of the zone is the central Temple of Earth where you start. There are many other interesting regions in the zone though. Just to name a few, there is an underground lake, Ice areas, marshes, and elemental areas. All this is split over multiple platforms that tend to rise in elevation as you get further out in the zone.
Also in the zone you will find two gunships. However, only one is still flying around, this happens to be the Alliance one. The Horde gunship was shot down, and this forms a quest chain for both Alliance and Horde as they attempt to determine why and how. It makes for an interesting sub story and region in this zone.
The zone has a single instance in it called the Stonecore. The entrance to which is found by flying up the side of the Temple of Earth. About 1/4 of the way up you will find a landing platform, a summoning stone, and the instance entrance. The whole instance resides inside the Temple of Earth itself. You can find a preview guide to the Stonecore here.
Almost all of the quests in the zone revolve around the central pillar called the Temple of Earth. This is the area where the core quests lead in and out of. Each time you finish a quest chain it seems to lead back to the middle to report in, get your next clue, and head back out. It works very well, as the zone is not as big as some of the other new zones and being circular, anytime you need to go someplace, going through the middle is not a bad idea.
In addition to the core quest chains there are several others scattered about that you will come across as you work on the main chains. These quest chains are generally there to introduce you to and to provide assistance to the denizens of Deepholm. They go a long way towards making you care about the zone and what is happening. They also lead you to some of the more visually stunning areas in the zone.
Most of the side quest chains in the zone have to do with assisting the Earthen found in the zone defending against the Troggs, Elementals, Twilight Hammerers and other enemies in the zone. The chains give you a lot of history and fill in many bits of fluff that have been missing in the Earthen lore.
After experiencing the two fabulous starting zones found in Cataclysm called Vashj’ir and Hyjal, I wondered if the rest of the new zones could keep up the quality found in them. At first when you enter Deepholm everything seems dark and dreary. However, that is at first glance. Once you start exploring though, you find that even in this zone of no sunlight, Blizzard has made it shine.
Better yet, while the quests again seem sparse initially, once you start moving through the chains you realize how many there really are in the zone. Even better there are many different quest types. I saw everything from the standard gather or kill quests, to escort quests, to use item quests, to warmachine quests.
Even better than the appearance and the quests, was the story line. The whole zone and the quests in it revolve around helping the Shaman in the central Temple of Earth to restore the World Pillar. If this is not accomplished the world of Azeroth is doomed. The quest chains really drive this point home and work off of one another the drive the story line. Due to a bug in the beta build I was not able to complete all the chains as several NPC’s became phased differently than my current phase, but I can not wait to finish the quests here to find out the end of the storyline.
So the short answer to my initial question of “can they keep the quality through the zones” is a big yes, at least so far, after all there are more zones that come after this one.
While the zone is really good because of the imagery, quests, and storyline, it gets even better, and that is because of the difficulty level. Hurray, it’s hard! You need to be extremely carefully and can not simply AOE pull and kill everything. In full tank gear I was still getting hit extremely hard. In retribution gear on my Paladin or balance gear on my Druid it was pull one creature, carefully, and just live to finish it off in time. The odd time you would get several crits and be over 3/4 health, but most of the time, due to drastically reduced crit rates, you would be at 1/4 or lower health. This was in ICC 10 and 25 gear with some minor upgrades from Cataclysm. This to me is ideal. Pulling multiple creatures should equal death, fighting over your level should be hard, and levelling/questing should be challenging / fun while offering a sense of accomplishment. I loved the difficulty here.
This zone is different than almost anything that has come before in WoW, and that makes it something special. Players seem to be in for a real treat with Cataclysm. Blizzard seems to keep finding ways to provide even more polish with each new release.