World of WarCraft: The Burning Crusade is an incredibly refined and smooth update to the already delightful World of WarCraft. Everything that is right with the original game is distilled and concentrated in eleven new zones, seven of which are dedicated to high-level content. This does not include the many new instances available to 60+ players. The Draenei and Blood Elves get two zones each, one a proper newbie zone, the other to suit levels 10-20.
As we mentioned in our TBC preview, the newbie zones are truly excellent. They surpass the two best start options, Elwynn Forest and Tirisfal Glades rather handily, and their follow-ups, Ghostlands and Bloodmyst Isle, are far, far better than original early zones like Barrens, Loch Modan, or Westfall. Quests are more concise, with less mindless running around and more action. There are fewer bottlenecks and no occasions where a player finds himself starved for a key mob or is looking for frustratingly rare drops. Generally speaking, if you start a Blood Elf or Draenei toon, you will find yourself doing more, shorter quests and next-to-zero grinding. The path to level 18-20 or so is ridiculously well-planned and if anything having to go to Redridge Mountains, Ashenvale, or Stonetalon Mountains will be a bit of a shock as you notice the quality drop off between expansion and original content.
Players continuing their level 60 characters will be warmly surprised, however. Outland is a magnificent example of questing and design. Though some zones, like Bladeís Edge Mountains or Hellfire Peninsula arenít particularly attractive, all of them are well-designed with incredible question progression. Quest stacking, once an art that spawned numerous leveling guides, now comes naturally with every zone. The endless FedEx quests of the level 50s, flipping between Western Plaguelands, Eastern Plaguelands, Winterspring, Azshara, and Silithus is but a distant memory. Almost every quest in Outland is completed in the zone itís started in, and usually there are two or three other quests that take you to the same area. Itís really as simple as collecting all the quests, doing them, turning them in, and then doing their follow-ups. The designers have chosen to go with quest chains for the most part, there are few stand-alones, and the chains range from moderate to long in length. In some wonderful cases, like the continued adventures of the Nesingwary Expedition, the chains themselves stack as you progress into different areas.
Loot drops are remarkable for the first few levels of Outland. Players stuck in mixed green and blue gear, or even tier 0 from 10-mans will be pleasantly surprised by the incredible quality of drops Outland has to offer. Molten Core-quality gear is usually completely gone by level 62, even considering set bonuses. Blackwing Lair goods disappear a few levels after that, and even the prized Naxx gear will be oudated for the most part before you hit 70. Thatís not to say that raid epics wonít serve you well, because for the most part those to hit 70 fastest were wearing very good gear at the outset and didnít have to bother with the early instances. After level 62 or so, players will notice that loot drops have tapered off in progression and there wonít be as dramatic an improvement from level to level, though still better than it was in vanilla WoW. To give you an idea of how dramatic the improvement is, my Rogue had ~3500hp in mixed greens and blues before The Dark Portal opened. By the time level 61 hit, he was over 5000hp. Now, having just hit 66 and not seen an instance since Underbog, heís at 5700hp and could be at about 6500 if I sacrificed my fetish for +hit and +crit items for more stamina boosts.
The reason for the good gear drops is because players need to be on relatively equal footing as they progress through the game. It would be impossible to keep Naxx players challenged if the early zones like Zangarmarsh or Hellfire Peninsula were also to be playable by those who hadnít gone raiding or done many instances at level 60.