Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.

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.

9 thoughts on “Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.

  1. Guido

    One of the best things about Stratholme is one that you seem to have missed: There are plenty of books in the ruins, particularly in the Scarlet wing, that show love to detail and lore. If you get to re-visit the place, try finding some time in the slaughter to read them, or screenshot them and read them later, or get one of those book reading addons for the trip that record the book texts automatically.

    Thanks for making me remember the days when Molten Core was young, Stratholme was still a 10-man raid, and the difference gear and experience made until the day when the 45 minutes 5-man run was introduced.

    It was a worthy experience, and somehow so different from raids and even 5-mans today. It all feels so goal-driven, loot-driven, while back then the experience was what mostly counted. I hope WotLK can spark some of that magic again – TBC could, for a month or two, but to me the original endgame when the first dungeon set was still great gear (and many people didn’t even know Valor was supposed to be warrior stuff) is unbeaten to date.

  2. unwise

    I wonder if going back to these places nowadays gives you more freedom to explore and experience. Back in the early days when I used to PUG the place, most groups just rushed chaotically through on the most direct route with nary a stop for breath. Would have been nice to have been in a decent guild back then!

  3. Elf

    Stratholme is certainly a most marvellous place to visit because of its architecture and history, which has been combined in to a burning necrotic city. I’m glad you had time to stop and look around because the atmosphere should not be ignored.

    We’ll have to go to Dire Maul, if you have not been there either, as the elven buildings are just as grand and inspiring.

  4. Melmoth

    @Guido: I haven’t missed the books myself, but I did neglect to mention them, you’re right. Not least because there is now an achievement to be had in reading these tomes so it is more obvious to casual players that these things exist. The lore in them is indeed fantastic, as you so rightly point out. I even found one about some Lich King chap, whoever that is.

    @unwise: Definitely there is more freedom: you can tackle the place at your own pace, and also easily wander off the beaten track without worrying about adds or getting lost or wasting precious progression time. Come level eighty I imagine all classes will be able to solo these instances without having to blink twice, and then anyone will be able to go and take whatever time they want to tour these places and drink in the atmosphere.

    @Zoso: “Been spending most our lives living in a Disenchanter’s Paradise” as Coolio may have sung if he’d ever played through Stratholme on an overpowered level 70 character. Still, on the serious side of it, there’re still very nice vanity lewts that could drop, such as the Baron’s Mount (ok, so that’s insanely rare, but the chance exists), so it’s not all shards ‘n’ shit, as my level 70 homies say on the streets of Stratholme.

    @Elf: Adventure awaits us! To the Stratmobile! %Dun er, dun er, dun er, dun er, derrrr%

  5. Khan

    I remember the times when I and my small play group would work through those encounters. I remember the time in LBRS when we found the guy who could forge the key to UBRS. Looking out over the ledge where he stands, I got an impression of just how huge and wonderous the place must really be. Then there’s Dire Maul which is too often overlooked. Making it through ogres and death and then seeing the library for the first time was stunning.

    Such care and devotion went into creating the “old world” instances, it’s really a shame they’re not used more.

  6. p@tsh@t

    Yet another argument for being able to shut off the XP bar. Pre-TBC I got to experience most of the old world instances in their glory.

    Post TBC our dedicated group tried to complete our tour of Azerothian instances at-level but unfortunately and incidentally out levelled them to the point where the challenge became trivial. The problem is worse now that leveling is so fast and green outland gear is so prevalent.

    I would have loved locking my bar at 60 and running all the former end-game instances. As they were designed to be the old end game, they received so much polish and attention to detail that there are still easter eggs to discover.

    Damned shame they’re all but museum pieces now.

  7. Melmoth

    @Khan: I’m off to Dire Maul soon, I think. I’m still drinking in all this excellent content that I’ve never witnessed before because I unfortunately have an aversion to raiding like a mouse has an aversion to cats.

    @p@tsh@t: I’m really enjoying running some of these instances now after their prime, because the fundamental idea of raiding, which seems to be to repeatedly wipe on a boss night after night until you finally crack it and then rapidly out-gear it, just doesn’t appeal to me. The great thing now is that you could grab TAGN and co, and go run places like UBRS and beyond, and experience them in all their glory, but with the time and stress levels being comparable with a five-man dungeon. A five-man dungeon of epic scale and spectacle. I seem to recall reading on TAGN’s site that you guys had run some of the old instances, BRD maybe? It’s well worth going for the others too, there’s some absolutely stunning design, content and lore still to experience in the Old World.

Comments are closed.