There has been discussion about World of Warcraft’s Old World content ever since The Burning Crusade was announced, and the discussion has only grown with the ever nearing release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The discussion mainly centres on revamping or removing the one to sixty levelling game for those players who have already completed it one or more times, but what’s really interesting to me is how much new content is now available to the casual non-raider.
I’ve been pootling around on my restoration spec. shaman, getting him ready for Wrath; I also have a paladin and a druid at level seventy, but this time around I feel that I’ll only have the enthusiasm to level one character all the way to level eighty, and since I roll with the Alliance, keeping my shaman going seemed like a good idea because they’re slightly less populous on the ground than paladins and druids. Added to this is the fact that if I do decide to level an alt I will almost certainly have to play a gnome death knight, if nothing other than to make m’colleague gnash his teeth and yank at his ear lobes in anguish as his eyes redden and fill with watery rage.
I’ve been joined in the game by Elf, a long time veteran campaigner in the lands of Azeroth, and a member of the distinguished League of Gentlemen Levellers, along with Zoso, myself and one other. Zoso is still happily(?) playing Warhammer Online, so yesterday Elf and myself headed in to Stratholme and waltzed through the place, quite literally performing the ancient Dance of Death as we gracefully and serenely slaughtered a path along the ancient streets of the city.
Ok, Elf did all the slaughtering; I mainly just refreshed Earth Shield on his character once in a while and spent the rest of the time gawping at my surroundings. Protection spec. warriors are quite, quite maddeningly powerful these days, it seems.
About halfway through it dawned on me how beautiful a place Stratholme is and I found myself pining for those days when it must have all been new and fresh and unknown. When raids of adventurers would struggle to make headway in the place, but every time they did, every time they forged onwards to the next challenge, they were faced with scenes that surely would produce awe and wonder in even the most hardened MMO veteran. As a city it’s probably not as large as Stormwind but it is as detailed, and that’s what boggled my mind. It’s not inherently beautiful, you understand: a city in ruins, it is a sprawl of crumbling decaying buildings often still on fire, which are infested with undead and other monstrosities; no, it’s the attention to detail that makes it beautiful in both design and experience, that makes it feel so much like a real city which has been abandoned and left for (the) dead. For example: the shops all have signs outside them, and being the inveterate role-player that I am, I couldn’t help wondering who these people were, and where they were now. I imagine there’s a website that details it all, but at that moment in time it infused me with the most delightful sense of astonishment and discovery, that feeling of witnessing something special and epic, a feeling that happens all too rarely in MMOs these days, which saddens me because it’s what MMOs should be about: awe, wonder, discovery, a sense of epic history, a sense of adventure.
A sense of adventure.
This is, I think, what MMOs so often overlook in their quest to be popular and appeal to the masses, they focus so much on the balance, the mechanics, the format and the structure of the game that they forget to add in that quintessential essence of adventure. This is what Blizzard did so well in World of Warcraft, they created so many vistas around the world, so many places and creatures that cause all but the most jaded of players to stop and gawp and marvel at the spectacle of it, to feel proud and content to have discovered and witnessed such a thing, and most importantly to have their desire to experience more fanned until it literally burns within them. This is what ‘experience’ should mean to a player of an MMO, not a two-tone bar that is filled when you kill umpteen thousand token creatures all alike, but a joyous memory of something that you will take away with you and reflect on months or years later, and that you will try to share with others in a way that makes them feel as you did when you experienced it, but which you will never be able to achieve, because the experience was uniquely yours.
Large swathes of this sort of content have, until now, been lost to the truly casual player of World of Warcraft, but no longer, and I urge any of you who have not yet taken the opportunity to visit these Old World instances, to do so. It is no longer beyond the means or capabilities of any player, I am the utmost of carebear-casual dedication-shy players; my shaman is dressed in a few quest and welfare-PvP blues, and Elf’s warrior is not equipped to a much greater extent than that either, and yet we can make our way through as a duo without any effort, and I’m sure that many other classes can, and indeed have, solo’d instances of far greater difficulty. As a duo we have conquered all of Blackrock Mountain barring its molten core, something we will attempt to rectify in the near future.
But if you do go back, promise me this: do not do it just for the tick-in-the-box achievement, promise me that you will go there to discover. To discover these places, to discover lost worlds and lost lives, and to rediscover your own joy and wonder, something that these MMOs can still provide when they are at their very best.