Blizzard sent me a note at some point early last week inviting me to come back to World of Warcraft for seven days, free of charge. As is my wont, I set WoW to patch, just in case I decided to take them up on this offer. After all, what else is my computer going to do all night alone?
The offer is apparently good for anybody with an account that has been inactive since last month at some point and lasts through April 2nd of this year.
That patched, I went on with my normal routine until Sunday afternoon, when I hit what Douglas Adams referred to as “the long dark tea time of the soul.”
I had cleaned up a bit around the house. I had successfully gotten my daughter outside for a bit of sunlight and exercise. I had completed stage one of the spring cleaning plan for my office, which determined that there was, in fact, a solid surface beneath all of those papers on my desk. I had taken all the baths and shot all the tanks that one usefully could. Now I was pottering around, looking for something to do.
Or, more specifically, a game to play. I had an hour or two of calm and quiet. I just wanted to get absorbed and carried off for a bit. Some immersion was called for. Generally swinging a sword does that for me.
The problem was that, as far as fantasy MMORPGs went, I was facing road blocks of one sort or another all over.
The level 15+ zones in Guild Wars 2 haven’t been cutting it. My enthusiasm there is waning quickly.
In Rift I have found no real passion for the Storm Legion zones. I couldn’t tell you why. I enjoyed 1-50, but 51-60 just isn’t capturing me. Even after the previous nights adventures, I had no interest in getting to level 52. It feels like a grind.
In the various versions of Norrath my characters are all looking for new routes forward, which means work not play.
And… well… you know where this is heading. But what happened when I went there?
More after the cut.
So I ended up on the WoW icon. I hadn’t been in the game since Pandaria launched back in October. My account ran out shortly there after.
My first thought was just to log in and see if our guild was still there or if we had been looted or stolen yet again. Some of us have authenticators, some of us don’t. And at least Earl was still subscribed (though he hadn’t logged in for nearly a year), so the door was potentially open.
To my relief though, the guild was still there. The guild roster showed that nobody had logged in for months.
Already on with the closest thing I have to a “main” and one and only level 85 character, my paladin Vikund, I decided to go wander with him for a bit. I headed out to the Twilight Highlands, which was where I left off with him. I actually was in pursuit of an achievement when I was last playing him, the one for looting 5,000 gold over the life of the character. (Or, at least since they started tracking, which was when he was already level 60 and had an epic mount.)
At 4994 gold, that wasn’t a tough hurdle. I was kind of surprised at how little coin level 85 mobs drop. It seemed to be anywhere between 5 and 40 silver, which doesn’t seem like a lot when compared to what quests are handing out and the state of the auction house currently. Still, even with that level of coinage, the achievement was mine pretty quickly.
I was also amused at how hard Vikund was hitting. Attacks doing five figures of damage seemed… over the top? And I had not even upgraded my gear with the Pandaria drops that no doubt litter the auction house.
That was amusing for a bit, but I wasn’t really on a path towards anything and simply grinding mobs was what I wanted. So I logged Vikund off and looked at my list of characters. I have a full platter of choices at various levels, from a level 83 dwarf hunter to a level 9 panda warrior.
Eventually I picked out Makarov, a late 20s warrior that I rolled up after Cataclysm launched. I was using him to run through various zones to see what had changed in the world. That was going to be a full series of post, but never quite came to pass. The last point I had written about with him was about Red Ridge, a zone heavily redone with Cata.
When I logged him in he was at the inn in Duskwood, a zone he appeared to have completed. Or, if not completed, at least out leveled. I really have no recollection of doing that, but I had the achievement for doing the quests. Of course, it is lumped in with Westfall, so maybe that was it.
Anyway, I had the quest pointing me to the rebel camp in Northern Stranglethorn. I mounted up… suddenly realizing that with the mount and pet consolidation that came with Panaria that I had a lot of choices in that regard… and rode on out.
Only I didn’t actually need to. I could have flown, as the game opens up all the flight points as you hit the appropriate level now. There is no need to ride or walk out to discover them any more.
But I still arrived. And at the rebel camp I was greeted with several familiar quests. If Red Ridge had been almost completely redone, then it looked like Northern Stranglethorn had retained a large number of its old stable of quests. There was the one for the jungle remedy and for finding documents in the Kurzen camp along with the pointer quest to the Nesingwary campsite. I started filling up my quest log, then ran along to add in the expected hunting quests from the Nesingwary expedition.
And I got what I expected. There was a quest for croc skins along with the panther, tiger, raptor (10 each please) hunting quests. The first real surprise was the Green Hills of Stranglethorn quest. Once a wonder in its inventory clogging ability, it now needs just one drop. It appears that only page 14 is still missing from the book, and it showed up with my first kill.
All full of quests, I ran off to the Kurzen camp, ever a place of desperate fights. It was another point where the mobs spawned in packs and getting inadvertent adds was happening all the time. Overall, it was a place best tackled in a group.
And, sure enough, my first attempt to get at the documents for one quest, which are in a house with four mobs.
That, however, appeared to be a fluke. A remnant of the old days that somebody forgot to… fix?
The rest of the camp, buildings, and caves had been thinned out. What used to be a nightmare to approach solo because fairly easy to approach alone. The last named mob, deep back in the cave used to be almost certain death solo at level. Now you can just run in, jump on his table, and stick him without much in the way of interference. All but one of his helpers has been banished, and the remainder was out of aggro range.
Of course, that doesn’t mean some people are not dying in the attempt.
I have to imagine they trained a group of adds with them or were seriously under level… or were just really bad at the game.
Of course, that might not be fair. I started off a bit over level and was getting seriously over level as time went along, which overwhelmed amazingly bad equipment. Kills, quests, discovery, and harvesting all piled on so much experience that I popped up a few levels. I camped out of town at the end of the day just to avoid piling more blue bar than I had to.
But did I find the fun I sought?
Most unequivocally yes.
In part I think this was because the zone is an even mix of nostalgia and Cataclysm.
Most of the old quests are still in there in some form. I remembered most of them. But a lot of them have the rough edges filed down. The Nesingwary kill quests finish up and renew out in the field, so there is no running back and forth to get the quest for the next round of panthers, tigers, or raptors. You can do all but the last step without a return to the camp.
And the new quests had some charm. Early on you pick up a raptor hatchling who becomes the focus of one line of quests.
And the whole thing played smooth and easy. I had forgotten how slick and responsive Blizzard makes their UI. No other MMO I have played recently is as good at those sorts of details. Blizzard still does not get enough credit for how well their UI works, even if you don’t like how it is laid out.
Some things I found a little jarring at first. They really want to let you know now when you are stunned or rooted.
And after exposure to a lot of more recent and graphically sophisticated games, some of the artwork is starting to feel a bit tired. Not that Blizz doesn’t do a great job with the engine they have, but sometimes you see the limitations.
All in all I had a good time on Sunday afternoon and kept on playing a little bit each night. My plan was to finish up the zone and get the 50 quest achievement for it. By this point I am pretty close to that goal.
Does this mean that I am going to resubscribe to WoW?
Of that I am not so certain. I think the past week was a pleasant convergence of old and new. It was the right content with the right level of effort and memories at the right time.
But I am almost done with that content, and the next zones on the list are part of the heavily redone items. There is no nostalgic attachment there. I am not sure there is another week of happy fun in that, much less 30 days. If the Saturday night group wanted to go back, I would go. But I am not sure I would advocate for it, as I am not sure there is anything we would find satisfying. Going back to blasting through three instances a night isn’t my ideal.
So, thank you for the 7 days Blizzard. It was good and it reminded me of all of the fun I have had in the past in Azeroth. But both WoW and I have changed over the years, and I am not sure we are a match any more.
But I cannot say that I am not tempted to subscribe again based on my seven days.