In late 2010, World of Warcraft, the world’s biggest and most successful Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (mmorpg) was nearing its peak of nearly twelve million monthly subscribers. World of Warcraft solidified its place in gaming history by doing what few games have ever done: capturing both the casual and hardcore gaming audience alike. At that point, I was a disbeliever. After six years of seeing my friends, acquaintances and colleagues delve into an online environment where they invested hundreds, if not thousands of hours and dollars, I was content to know this was a game and routine I was never going to experience. Unfortunately, like the rest of us, I am susceptible to that magical tool called hype.
Last December Blizzard Entertainment released the newest and one of the most anticipated expansions to the game since the game’s original release: World of Warcraft: Cataclysm. Unlike other expansions which merely added new areas, equipment, and levels (which would only be accessible to those who had reached the “end” of the game), Cataclysm revamped the entire world. In addition to increasing the maximum level of characters from 80 to 85 and adding five entirely new realms, Blizzard overhauled the entire world of Azeroth, including all of the early player experiences, through an event called “The Shattering.”
The Shattering was a pre-release event that ushered the return of Deathwing the Destroyer, an evil entity bent on chaos and destruction. Leaving devastation in his wake, Deathwing fractured, burned, and destroyed everything that millions of players had known for years. What we were left was a reformed world, a tactic meant to attract new players and allow veteran players to relive old content in fresh, new surroundings.
This is where my journey in Azeroth began. Blizzard had done it; they created an event that delivered enough hype and anticipation to successfully counter the negative stigma that had previously kept me from joining the ranks of Warcraft’s population. I woke up the day of the release, game already downloaded and installed on my laptop, to meet a friend and long time player of the game. This marked my first experience with the biggest game of all time. The beginning of my journey was not unlike the experience of being in a foreign country. Still, being a hardcore gamer, many aspects of the game came to me as second nature; the mouse and keyboard perform the same actions they would in any other game; there is a health bar and mana bar, standard for anyone that has experienced a Role-Playing Game; there are assigned hotkeys for attacks as well as potions to heal. Unfortunately, this is where the similarities end and the unfamiliar traits of a mmorpg come into play.
I was a Blood Elf. A Holy Paladin Blood Elf, to be precise. What that meant to me to begin with was nothing more than personal enjoyment of the idea of being someone I could pretend came straight out of Tolkien’s universe. I started roaming the area I was born into. I muddled around, trying my best to locate quests and level up. My character was not majestic by any means, but I found that my elf with his unimpressive long sword and drab leather garments made quick work of the scorpions and spiders that plagued the realm. After an hour or two I was already level 5 and managed to pick up a new shiny battle-axe from a local vendor. Thus far, this game was just like any other: the goal was clear. I needed to find quests and complete them.
Sure, there were other people, but aside from the occasional jumping up and down while you circle another player (an odd yet amusing form of communication), there seemed to be little that was fresh or unique about the game. Gold, quests, combat, vendors, gear, and jumping… and all of it accomplished and mastered in a day. Within a couple of hours I had exhausted all f the quests in my starting area and realized that it was time to move on to the next. Just a few seconds of studying the world map made me realize that what I had accomplished was less akin to conquering a country as it was to beating up the school yard bully. The size and scale of the world began to unravel before me and I started to understand why it was called a Massively-Multiplayer game. I was instructed by my friend to make my way to Orgrimmar (the main city of the Horde). I was not a high enough level to have access to transportation, so I was forced to go by foot. The journey to the city took nearly twenty minutes, and I had only traversed a fraction of the map.
My first taste of Orgrimmar was a memorable one. The world had finally opened up to me. Rather than a dozen players roaming a country-side, I found myself inside of a vast city with thousands of players. Some rode flaming horses while others sat atop flying dragons. There were countless shops, quests, and even multiple auction houses where you could buy and sell your spoils. All of this was just one city. I began to realize that the game had only just begun. The next few weeks were almost a blur, and I can honestly say I’m not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
I spent hours upon hours exploring, questing, and experiencing everything that Azeroth had to offer. I joined a guild, became a grand-master jewel crafter as well as becoming quite adept at healing in raiding parties. I understood how so many people could become captivated, if not addicted or obsessed with such a massive, engaging world. Still, I felt there was something missing. In all the time I spent questing and grinding, improving my character or my guild status, I was never really certain if I was actually having fun. I would liken the experience to someone who is addicted to smoking. I was motivated to spend my time and money to continually do something, but was never quite sure what that motivation was. When I began to ask myself the question, “do I really want to be playing this right now?” I realized that the answer to the question was apparent in the need to even ask it.
Now, months after leaving the game, I can’t say that I don’t get the urge to reopen my account and begin again right where I left off. I may even recommend the game if I were asked my opinion on it. One thing I do know, however, is my time in Azeroth is over, and the experience was unique and one that I will never forget.