I started playing World of Warcraft again recently to check out the expansions. Coming back to it again after so long away was an interesting experience. I realized some things after playing it, and talking to people at work about it.
The areas in WoW are so level segmented that, once you’ve moved on to a higher level, you have almost no incentive to visit the lower level areas again. Whole continents of content are lost to you.
I’m guessing they did this to avoid the problem of a new player wandering too far up a mountain and getting eviscerated by some foul, high level beast he had no way of knowing was there. (I hear this happened a lot in EQ?) You definitely feel safe wandering around in an area your level in WoW. Dumb.
One of my favorite things in WoW is the early Silverpine area. As a new player, you’ll be putzing around, doing some mind-numbing collect quest, when all of a sudden this massive wolfman charges out of nowhere and smashes you in the face. You run away blindly screaming, wondering what the hell is going on. You usually get away safely, if a little worse for wear.
These Sons of Arugal are definitely higher level than most of the players leveling in the area, and are an awesome harassment. They create stories for people. When you’re higher level, you’ll be riding up the road and see a pack of low level people running screaming out of the forest, with a worgen loping after them a few seconds later. It creates stories for people tell each other, and these are stories that evolve naturally through gameplay.
It was also one of the few storylines in WoW that I actually had a personal emotional investment in. After getting killed by these things a few times during leveling, you want nothing more than to be able to kill them.
Throughout a series of area quests as you get higher level, you learn the back story behind these creatures. The worgen were accidentally brought into the world during a summoning intended to strengthen the ranks of the mages defending against the undead scourge. After slaughtering the scourge, they turned on the mages themselves. The mage, Arugal, was driven mad with guilt, and adopted the worgen as his children. The quest chain culminates in you fighting your way through his ruined castle, ultimately destroying him, his pets, and the vengeful ghosts haunting the castle.
It’s an amazing quest chain, but wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting if it hadn’t hooked you early on with the lowbie harassment.
This is great storytelling through gameplay… unfortunately, this is one of only a few instances of it that I’ve seen in WoW. I wish they did more of it. An old dragon in a deep cave, occasionally coming down to harass a village; an evil wizard, hidden in a mountaintop retreat, sending out minions to harvest unsuspecting lowbies from nearby areas for dark spells; these things would allow for better re-use of areas and make the game far more interesting.