Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Warcraft Wednesday - Returning to the World of Warcraft

I've played World of Warcraft (WoW) since just after release. I'd not really played an MMO prior to that, apart from a quick go of Star Wars Galaxies (my computer at the time wouldn't run it properly) and a grindathon called Ragnarok Online. I don't know what made me suddenly sit up and take notice of WoW, either. Whatever it was, I remember it being sold out everywhere in Birmingham, but my brother managing to get us a copy each whilst he was working away from home on a training course. Since then, I've played for hundreds of hours (I'm too scared to look at my total time played), got one of every class to at least 90 and currently have four level 100 characters. I've raided, I've been casual, I've done PvP and I've never done a single pet battle, because screw that Pokemon crap.

One of my first and most vivid memories of that time is cresting a hill in Dun Morogh as a lowly Gnome Rogue, not having a clue what I was doing and just being amazed by how seamless and vast the world was. I saw the Dwarven capital of Ironforge, built into a distant mountain. I wondered if I could run all the way there; turns out I could, and so much farther.

Sadly I lost all my original screenshots of my early adventures

I always like snowy areas in games and the gentle, relaxing music, crunchy snow underfoot and the engaging quests had me hooked.

But that was almost eleven years ago. Much has changed, both in my life and in the game itself. Expansions have come and gone, new classes, races and even whole new continents have been added. The entire world was revamped in the Cataclysm expansion of 2010, when the mighty dragon Deathwing tore the world a new one as an excuse for the devs to redo a lot of the old, outdated content.

All your base are belong to us
When I first started playing WoW I was living with my parents, working in retail part time and had just finished university. It wasn't uncommon for me to be up until all hours of the morning simply exploring this massive world that Blizzard had created. I'm now eleven years older, married, living with my wife and young son. I also have a 'proper' job and don't get to game as much as I used to, although I still try to find time for it as it's a big passion of mine and you should always make time for your passions.

I've just returned to WoW after over a year away. The Warlords of Draenor expansion, which was still fairly new when I last played, is now dying a slow and painful death; players have left in their millions, new content has dried up and, with the new expansion, Legion, hopefully just around the corner, the game has a feeling of malaise hanging over it. The end of expansion lulls are always this way; you've experienced everything you want to experience in the game, you're waiting on all the exciting new features promised with the new expansion, and people drift away as they get bored. But, having left before the second raid of the expansion (Blackrock Foundry) came out, there is an absolute tonne of stuff for me to catch up with; new raids, new pvp gear, shipyards, a new zone and getting the ability to fly in Draenor - it's almost overwhelming!

Ooh, shiny

That's always my problem with WoW; I always feel the need to catch up; constantly feel like I'm running up a hill. That is, of course, part of the core gameplay: level up, do quests, do dungeons, get gear, do raids or pvp. A new raid or pvp season comes out and suddenly all that hard earned gear isn't the best any more, so you tackle the new stuff to get the new best gear. Then a new raid or season appears and it begins again. You can never 'win' in WoW. You can never 'beat' it. There is always something more to do, something more to see. More gear to get, more bosses to beat. And on and on it goes until you briefly catch up or you burn out. I generally burn out. I fall into a self-defeating pattern whereby I play like mad to get the good stuff (but never the best stuff, because I can't commit to raiding 40 hours a week any more), but in doing so burn out and feel the need to take a break. By the time I come back, my good stuff is now terrible and the new good stuff sits just tantalisingly out of reach, so I have to play like mad to catch up again - and let's not mention the transmog system...

Yes, you can take selfies in WoW...aren't I gorgeous?!?

Gear is such an important part of this game - it is intrinsically linked to your progress, both real and perceived. The best raiders get the best gear and you see them standing around the main cities, looking like gods amongst mere mortals. You envy them. You want what they have, no, you need it. It calls to you. 'You can have me to', it says alluringly, 'you just need to jump through all these hoops and smash through these barriers first'. The hoops and barriers are the catch, though, aren't they? You can have the best gear, but you have to work for it. Earn it. Anything else just isn't good enough and you're just a scrub. Grinding faction reputation, doing dozens of daily quests, LFR, normal, Heroic and now even Mythic raids, you have to do it all if you want to be the best. Always another goal, always just slightly out of reach, all for the best stuff and the biggest bragging rights.

Bask in my glory! Well, maybe a few years ago...

And so it is that I've returned once more to Azeroth (or, more accurately, Draenor thanks to the wibbly wobbly timey wimey nonsense of the Warlords of Draenor expansion). Within the space of an hour I went from 'should I play again?' to downloading, resubscribing and preordering the next expansion, due sometime in the summer. I used the 'free' boost with the preorder to instantly make a level 100 Night Elf Druid, a race and class I've never got on with for rather arbitrary reasons but, with one of every other class between 90-100, I felt it was time for me to try something new and so far, truth be told, I'm enjoying it. I'm still not quite sold on Night Elves, but Druids as a class? I find their self-sufficiency a boon for someone returning to a much quieter game than the one I left. With none of my friends currently playing, I'm forced to wonder these lands alone, so what better way to do it than with a class that can fill every single role in the game? Want to tank? Go bear form! Want to do melee dps? Go feral cat form! Want to heal? Turn into a tree (yes, seriously)! Want to do ranged dps? Turn into a...chicken thing!

Behold Kelethan, mighty Druid! He can turn into a bear! And a panther! 
In just under a week I've done enough PVP to get fully geared in the blue stuff, ilvl700. I've even been lucky with some of the pvp epics from Ashran lockboxes. WoW is good like gives you just enough gear to start feeling competitive, to get you hooked again, and that's when the treadmill begins anew..."well, if I play this much per day, or that much per week, I can get that awesome new weapon in just four weeks...oh...".

And so who knows how long I'll stick around this time. A couple of weeks? A month? More? I can't say. I know from past experience that my time with the game is getting less and my time apart getting longer, so we'll just have to wait and see. 

Gone fishin'


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