WoW: Shadow and Substance

Maybe you’ve been thinking “It’s been a while since Baf played a DOS-era game. I miss those posts, with all their descriptions of encountering bugs and looking for ways around them.” If so, you’re in luck! I just encountered my first major, quest-blocking bug in WoW.

My story starts in Azshara, the region containing those goblin settlements I was talking about before. There’s a nice little suite of self-contained variety quests there on mountaintops inaccessible by normal means, a wizard’s Trials for testing his apprentices. These are essentially action mini-games. In the Trial of Fire, you have to dash around on a grid, avoiding the tiles that are about to erupt in magical flame. In the Trial of Frost, you have to collect scattered tokens while dodging the icy plumes emanating from rotating spheres. The Trial of Shadow is ringed with portals which emit shadow-creatures that you have to lure onto banishment runes set into the ground. Each of the trials not only gets you closer to completing the quest chain, it also has an Achievement for passing it perfectly, without taking any damage at all. I have two of those Achievements now — they’re not too hard once you spot the tricks. But the Trial of Shadow, I haven’t been able to pass. I haven’t even been able to start it.

The instructions at the beginning of the trial tell you to touch an altar to power up the shadow-emitting portals. There was no altar. I searched the area throughly, including looking down the mountainside. I tried leaving and coming back. Nothing. I spent some time doing dungeons — using the Dungeon Finder lets you teleport to the dungeons and back, so I could do this without leaving the mountaintop. I was kind of hoping that it was a temporary glitch and that if I spent a half an hour in a different zone, it would be fixed when I got back. When I got back, another player was just in the process of finishing the trial, but the altar was nowhere to be found.

When he was done, I asked him where the altar was, and he laughed. He led me to a patch of bare ground and said “This altar?” I protested that there was nothing there. I even tried clicking all around the spot, in the hope that I could interact with it even though I couldn’t see it, but no dice. He then stood on top of the alter and jumped up and down. Or so he says — it didn’t look like it to me. He didn’t even float in the air, like you’d expect if he were standing on an altar I couldn’t see, which has interesting implications for the underlying model.

Hitting up the web for answers, I found a lot of other people with the same problem, and a lot of spurious advice for fixing it. Abandon the quest, log out, log back in again, and start the quest again! No, that simply doesn’t work. The Blizzard support forums produced what I assume is the truth: for some players, the altar is replaced with a placeholder object. I’ve seen these objects around before: they appear as little cubes with a blue-and-white checkerboard pattern. In fact, the tokens I was supposed to collect back in the Trial of Frost appeared as placeholders. I think that the first time I saw them was in Silverpine Forest, where there’s a quest to gather blue-and-white cubical herbs. So you see that merely being placeholders isn’t a problem; you can click on a placeholder object as easily as anything else. But in this particular case, the placeholder, being much smaller than the object it’s replacing, apparently wound up concealed by the ground.

So, why are there placeholders in the released game? When I encountered them for the first time, I assumed that it was a matter of progressive download, like images in a web page: WoW lets you play while you’re still downloading content, and my earliest sessions came with an explicit warning that my experience may not be optimal yet. But apparently that’s not it. The altar object is missing because it’s not even included in the game I bought. It’s a mesh that was only introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The fact that the core game now relies in some ways on content only found in expansions is obviously a mistake, but it’s the sort of mistake that would easily go unnoticed by the developers, the testers, and the vast majority of the players.

Fortunately, there is a workaround: you can install the WotLK content on your machine even if you don’t have a license to play it. In fact, Blizzard offers a ten-day free trial for it, just like with the main game. Unfortunately, Blizzard doesn’t let you download the Wrath of the Lich King trial unless you’re already a registered owner of the previous expansion, The Burning Crusade. I may need to enlist the help of a more advanced WoW player here.

1 Comment so far

  1. Starmaker on 7 Feb 2011

    There are places to download expansions. However, as long as there isn’t a BC license attached to your account, Blizzard won’t let you sign up for a WotLK trial.

    On the other hand, in gaming clubs there’s probably one installation of WoW on a given machine, not four. Licenses are per account, not per machine. So it’s likely you’ll be able to play with a Classic account if you install BC, WotLK and even Cat if you get those expansions elsewhere. (Note: “likely”, I’m not really sure, this can kill the installation so back up everything). This, in turn, *might* make these objects visible.

    Write a ticket, make GMs earn their keep.

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