There have been a lot of tough things about coming back to WoW after a long layoff. Adjusting to all the class and mechanics changes, trying to figure out where old instances/raids I never did are located, and just playing the catch-up game, in general.
But recently I feel like probably the toughest part is that the community I once knew, and was once a part of, has largely disappeared. No one plays the game anymore; it’s passé at best or “for kids” at worst. People are moving on; either with “life” or to other games. So here she is: Pike, still pluggin’ away at the same old eleven-year-old video game. Look at her and marvel!
Now, I’m no stranger to pouring tons of time into old video games, as one glance through my Good Games That Are Good series can probably attest.
But WoW is, somehow, different. Perhaps because it’s an MMO, which is social by definition, or perhaps because I really threw myself into the community via things like blogging and Twitter. It was a little island that I became a part of. And now I get to watch, one by one, as more and more people leave the island. It’s a really weird feeling.
Ultimately, I will continue to do what I find fun and play what I want to play, of course. Because ultimately, that’s the point of games. But that doesn’t stop the weirdness that sets in every time yet another person says goodbye. Is this what I am doomed to, stubbornly playing an aging MMO? Is this all a part of the cycle? Maybe so. Maybe it’s what I signed up for.
In that case, I guess I’ll be over here on my island. Dreaming dreams like the one I dreamed last night– about old guildmates long gone.
Recently someone got to my blog via the search term “TBC or Wrath.” As it turns out, these are the two expansions I played the most, and they are also perennial fan favorites. The really interesting thing about these two expansions is that they kind of straddle a paradigm shift in the game. Let me explain:
Although at the time Burning Crusade was seen as a huge quality of life leap over vanilla World of Warcraft, looking back on it now, it was still very, well… vanilla. Lest you forgot, here are some of the attributes of TBC:
A 1-60 leveling nerf did not happen until at least halfway through the life of the expansion. To compare, it’s now fairly standard to get a nerf to experience rates through previous content with the release of a new expansion.
Mounts, mini pets, and so on were carried in your bag (or your bank).
Attunements. Attuments everywhere. At least at the beginning.
60 minute long hearthstone cooldown.
You didn’t get your first mount until level 40 (a patch at the very end of TBC did reduce this down to 30.)
Not only was it normal that there were certain buffs only one class could provide… but there were certain buffs only one spec could provide.
There was no dungeon finder. Finding a PuG dungeon meant sitting in the LFG channel for a long time.
There was of course no LFR and no real gear catchup mechanic aside from a little bit of badge gear so people were running the expansion’s first raid– Karazhan– until the night before WotLK’s release. Literally.
And so on. This was the most player-friendly MMO for its time, for sure, but it was still very much a retro, old-school type of experience.
Now then, we make the jump to WotLK.
As I said earlier, Wrath was very much a sort of paradigm shift for WoW. The QoL improvements were just immense. Off the top of my head, we got:
Shorter hearthstone cooldown
Mounts at level 20 and 40 (partway through the expac)
Dungeon Finder (about halfway through the expac)
Mounts and pets as spells rather than items (the bagspace, you guys!)
Buffs provided by more than one spec
Easier gear catchup for alts via a solid badge system that gave us new stuff every patch
Few to no attunements
And so forth. This was definitely an expansion that established a new zeitgeist for WoW: one that was less focused on hardcore raiding and endgame (although raiding was still huge throughout Wrath) and was more focused on a streamlined experience.
So: TBC or Wrath?
That depends on what side of the MMO coin you preferred.
To use a silly analogy, TBC was to Vanilla what Pokemon LeafGreen/FireRed were to the original Pokemon games. So if you prefer your MMOs more… unrefined, then TBC was probably the high point.
Wrath is a lot more like the newer expansions. It was streamlined. Why is it more popular, then, than basically all of the newer and even more streamlined expansions? For me, it was the atmosphere, the raids (which were very good, almost without exception,) and in the huge playerbase. WoW was everywhere back in 2009, being played by basically everyone, and it was a fertile ground for fan creations and dumb pop culture references alike. It was easy to love the game, because everyone loved it.
(I like this video because I recognize like all the gear in it)
So there you go. That’s my absurdly long, 600-word essay about Wrath and TBC.
And no I’m not gonna choose.
Okay, fine, I’ll choose TBC. Because of blood elves.
So today I hopped over to MMO-Champion to see if there was anything going on and it turns out there’s a poll on the front page asking if you’d do Timewalking even if there was no reward. My first thought was, “Pffft, of course I would. Wouldn’t everyone?” So I clicked on the Yes button aaaand guess what: most people actually don’t agree with me.
And for a minute I felt absolutely flabbergasted. Only 15.96% of players love this stuff as much as I do? Really? How bizarre! I mean, I know that not everyone finds the same stuff fun, but dang.
After some thought, I realized that I’m probably coming at this from a different perspective than most other players. To me, WoW is not really a social game. Yes, I know, it’s an MMO. But as Bhagpuss recently very eloquently stated, it’s sort of like going to a cafe. Other people may be at the cafe to hang out with friends or socialize. Me, I’m there to eat. The other people are just atmosphere.
Back in TBC and WotLK I was in big guilds and I raided and stuff. It was great fun and I looked back on it fondly. But the social game eventually grew thin, and I went dark.
Now I’m here for fun. I do things in game not because they’re an obligation to my guild, but because I want to do them. This is a playstyle that fits my life very well and I like it a lot. I often see people decrying the state of the game or the expansion, and honestly if I felt the same as they did I would have bounced to another game long ago. But presumably for these other people, the game is still, ultimately, social.
So! Gaming out of obligation. It’s not something I do anymore. I used to do it, and it was fun, but those days are gone. There’s nothing bad about playing that way, of course, but I prefer my current style. And that, I think, is probably why I feel so disconnected from many other players.
But that’s okay. Whatever makes me happy, I’m gonna go with it. 🙂
My first tentative forays into World of Warcraft were on RP servers. It started out that way simply because that’s where my friends were playing, but as I continued to play and began to explore and branch out to other servers, I quickly realized that, no, there really was something different and special about RP servers. Even if people weren’t actually roleplaying, you were more likely to run into people who had put at least a little bit of thought into their character, and since that’s how I usually play the game as well, it was nice to be among like-minded folks.
Then, one day, one particular friend invited me to make a character on his server. It was a PvP server, and I tell you what, I was not a fan. I tried to play on it, I really did, but I was being ganked by max level characters left and right and most of them had terrible borderline offensive names and it just all felt pointless. So I decided to transfer my character away.
Originally I was going to head to a normal RP server. But then something made me stop and think. What if it wasn’t actually the PvP that was bothering me? Afterall, I was that person who would happily spend hours and hours in Warsong Gulch and Arathi Basin. What if it was actually just the lack of those two little letters “RP”?
So I decided I would give PvP servers one more chance, but this time, I’d throw an RP-based community into the mix as well. So I did a little bit of research, browsed around on the official forums, found a server that sounded good called The Venture Co., and off I went.
To this day I remember logging into my new server– I was in Thunder Bluff– and immediately feeling that things were different. Trade chat was different. The people around me were different. It was as though the virtual air itself was different.
That was eight years ago. And I’m still here.
It’s difficult to explain what is special about RP-PvP servers. To be sure, the ganking is still there, but it feels different. It’s less pointless. Why? Because a lot of these people are, in fact, roleplaying. It was very common, back in the day, to have a guild “claim” a section of land and guard it. Usually there were all sorts of in-character motivations for this as well. Actually I can confirm that this still happens because my baby Paladin was killed yesterday for getting too close to Alliance lands (not until she had actually begun to cause trouble, mind.) For some people this won’t matter — they will either love or hate the world PvP. As for me, I like it. Sure, I may be dead, but it’s immersive, damnit! It adds an extra layer of depth to roleplay and character backstory.
Another thing I’ve found about these servers is that, I think more than any other server type, we kind of stick together. There are so many PvE and PvP servers that most people probably couldn’t name even a fraction of them off the top of their heads. RP servers are more rare, but there are still enough of them that you have certain divides (largely revolving around whether someone is on Moon Guard, Wyrmrest Accord, or one of those others that most people fail to remember.)
But there are a grand total of six RP-PvP servers in the US. And thanks to realm zoning, all six servers now interact with each other on what’s kind of one big happy (and gank-happy) RP-PvP server. VeCo long ago got merged with Lightninghoof and Maelstrom, so those are the people I mostly interact with in Draenor, but when I’m out in Azeroth I’ve certainly seen people from the other three servers– especially people from that most infamous of servers, Emerald Dream, which is the current World PvP hotspot.
It feels neat to me, somehow, that there aren’t many of us. Those of us weird enough to want RP in our PvP, and vice versa, had to be corralled into our own handful of special servers and now we’re all merged together. Being weird together. I guess I just think it’s neat.
So yeah. That’s my (long and rambling) story and I’m stickin’ to it. To paraphrase a blue cartoon alien: this is my server. I found it all on my own. It’s little, but good. Yeah… still good!
I recently found myself talking about this in a forum I go to – namely, the really unique sense of exploration that was to be found in this game all those years ago when I was new and the world was young.
Back then, a lot of stuff was blocked off, gated behind walls or doors or what-have-you. I’m talking about the Timbermaw Fortress in Azshara. Or old Grim Batol guarded by dragons. Or the gate to Uldum down in the bottom of Tanaris. Or the Greymane Wall in Silverpine Forest. Or Mount Hyjal, which you could barely glimpse through an instance portal in Winterspring.
There was something about all of this stuff that you couldn’t get to. Something compelling. Despite the fact that I knew that this stuff wasn’t programmed into the game, it almost felt like it was. Almost felt like if you could just squeeze through a hole in the wall, you could break in, and discover an amazing new unexplored world ahead of you. Did anyone else ever get that feeling? I got it a lot.
Although we went on to get most of those locations actually in game, we did lose the mystery. Not saying that’s a bad thing, but I kinda like a little mystery sometimes. And sometimes I kind of miss it.
I’ve been thinking recently about how with most video games it doesn’t really matter when you first play it – the experience is similar for everyone. So, for example, you can play Deus Ex or Morrowind today and talk to people who played Deus Ex or Morrowind when they first came out over a decade ago and your experiences with those games will probably have been fairly similar. You can talk about the story, areas of the game, obnoxious bosses and so on and have a lot of common ground.
But World of Warcraft is always changing, oftentimes a lot, and so you don’t always get that ability. Imagine someone who played the game ten years ago talking to someone who is just starting out today. They would have some common ground, of course – but how much?
People who started raiding in Cataclysm or Mists of Pandaria have a largely different view on the game than I would – I, as someone who did her raiding in Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. The bosses were different, the mechanics were different, and the memories were different.
Other than WoW I’ve never really been a huge MMO player so this is all a different and new concept to me. Other games are constants, but WoW is more like life, where new generations are constantly rising to play an experience that is similar to – but certainly not the same as – what the older generations experienced.