I sank a lot of time in World of Warcraft during late vanilla, throughout The Burning Crusade, and during a large chunk of early Wrath of the Lich King. I owe a lot to the game as it has easily given me some of the better friendships I have ever had and many great stories. However, at the same time, I can’t help but really loathe and hate the game. Part-bias, part-elitist: I cannot stand the roads Blizzard has chosen to drive Warcraft down. After having skipped an entire expansion, I decided to utilize my legacy free week to see the world that Azeroth had become.
Before I begin, I want to commend Blizzard on a simple fact. They have a system in place that allows current players to invite former players back to the game. Even better, the perks are truly outstanding. It is nice to see a MMO company take a common sense approach to luring back former players by giving meaningful stuff away such as free high-level class to play, complete with plenty of gold, and a full set of gear. I wouldn’t of been convinced to give the game a shot if it weren’t for the bounty of rewards and the free week I got simply for not playing the game for a few years.
(WARNING: SKIP AHEAD TO THE PICTURE OF A CAT IF YOU ONLY WANT TO HEAR NICE THINGS ABOUT WORLD OF WARCAFT.)
I returned to the game on the back of a former favorite character of mine: my druid. Well armed with early Wrath of the Lich King raid gear, he was once a kittie menace that slaughtered DPS meters like the lion slaughters the gazelle: only half the time, given that the gazelle usually can escape i.e. when I wasn’t stuck off-tanking or off-healing a failed attempt.
Either way, my druid Hootzil was a definite favorite of mine. The rich complexity of druid forms, combined with the absolutely crazy rotation of cat dps, and my love for respeccing all equaled one hell of a fun class. Though I still had a lot of burnout left in my heart, I had looked forward to breaking out a WoW druid one more time.
And, overall, it was satisfying enough. It is tough to tell how rewarding a class truly will be outside of serious raiding, so the fact that I exclusively did solo PvE grinding for my week back didn’t convince me that WoW had made any great leaps in fun. I did decide to roll with a Balance spec instead of feral, given how little I had played it in the past. I was really excited for the minor glyph, Astral Form, which removes the dated and ugly Moonkin look for something that looks just as tacky and silly (but at least showed off my sweet gear).
My only complaint might be that it felt rather sterile when I did find myself in something of a set rotation, but that was the trend for class redesign way back in Wrath as well. Once upon a time, rotations and the way you played a class felt clunky and hard to pin down. Though it is probably just nostalgia speaking, I sort of miss that wild wonder of discovery through trial and error. Now it seems like Blizzard has more or less designed every spec’s single rotation to be as completely obvious and easy to pick up for all players. Ultimately, I think this is a boring approach that only magnifies the burnout you receive from playing a MMO like WoW.
Content-wise, all I did was a little bit of the Pandaren starting zone and the first few zones of 80+ Cataclysm. The former offered more of Blizzard’s trademark approach to quest hubs, boring quests you never remember, and stuffing their writing and world with pop culture jokes. At least the Pandaren animate beautifully and the new zones look stunning for such a dated game.
The latter sucked. If you’ve done one zone in World of Warcraft, then you’ve done them all. Sure, the lore may change, the scenery might be different, and the objectives given to you may fluctuate, but WoW can never shake that “I just did this” feeling. People once heralded quest-based leveling as the panacea to the ailments of boring grinding, but at least the boring grinding of Everquest was dotted with challenge, uncertainty, and having to acknowledge that you are playing a multiplayer game. WoW is just dotted with exclamation points and bullets of objectives you’ve got no investment in that you only do to pad the time until the game actually starts.
The absolutely, without a doubt, one true bright and shining thing about my brief stint in Azeroth was a rather strange new feature added with the Mists of Pandaria: pet battles.
Hear me out. I haven’t played a recent Pokemon since Gold & Silver, but I am of that age of young males who grew up in love with all things Pokemon. Even now, the game series holds a tight hold on the whims of my heart, and would be one I still played if handheld gaming machines weren’t for children. When Blizzard first announced their pet battle plan, I didn’t much care. Vanity pets are one of my most hated things ever, so the idea of doing anything at all with them struck me as being impossibly silly.
I was completely wrong, pet battles are brilliant, and Blizzard deserves a reward for adding them.
I wasn’t originally even going to play them, but a friend of mine who still players the game wanted to mess around with them with me. Those 5 minutes spent joking around with him turned into most of the rest of my playtime being derailed by acquiring pets, training pets, theorycrafting teams, and queuing for battle.
Of course, my praise has its limits. It is apparent that this system, though definitely fun, isn’t exactly as deep as I would have hoped. Given how little I expected though and how new the system is currently, it would be unfair to say that Blizzard should’ve put in something as deep as Pokemon as a fluff feature for an expansion.
Either way, pet battles are an absolute blast, and I am sad to see them implemented now rather than when I could actually stomach playing the game for more than a week. If you are similarly burnt out on WoW (god help the rest of you), I still suggest finding a way to try out the pet battles just to see the future of fluff in MMOs.