Saturday was the fifteenth anniversary of the launch of World of Warcraft.
I wasn’t there for the launch fifteen years ago. Honestly it didn’t register with me at the time and I was only really aware of the game after the fact.
As I wrote earlier in the month in recognition of another anniversary, I was busy playing EverQuest II. And I wasn’t even planning to play that, a tale that was pretty much covered in that other post. Suddenly invested in EQII after a hiatus for EQ, I was pretty much oblivious to the launch of World of Warcraft when it came.
Eventually it came to my notice and clearly I ended up playing it. So I decided that I should try to piece together a timeline of my own relationship with World of Warcraft.
On the plus side, I have this blog to help. On the negative, this blog started in late 2006, some time after I started playing WoW and long after what I would consider the pre-history of WoW. And since launch the blog had passed the five thousand post mark, almost 1,300 of which are included in the World of Warcraft category, which gives me a bit of a problem finding some of the exact details I might be looking for. The search function in WordPress is a bit too loosey goosey for my taste. (I really want multiple tag/category search.)
Still, I managed to scrape something together.
The Years Before WoW
World of Warcraft did not manifest in a vacuum, but was part of a stream of development that started in the 90s with the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. That launched 25 years ago this past Saturday, sharing a launch date with WoW separated by ten years.
I didn’t play Warcraft when it launched either. I don’t think I ever owned a copy of it, but I was aware of it. I worked at a company that did Macintosh products and it was popular in the lab because it was a network game. I was playing more Marathon and Bolo then, but I bought copies of Warcraft II and Warcraft III in turn.
I never played the campaign for either. I bought them to play against friends and co-workers on the company network. Thus, I recognize all the peon phrases, recall some of the units, but am completely lore bereft. (Same story with StarCraft really. Played a ton of head to head, never really did the campaign.)
I did, however, play Diablo and Diablo II very thoroughly. Those do not share the same lore universe as Warcraft, but a lot of the ideas and mechanics that went into WoW came from those two.
There was a point when I was bemoaning the fact that I didn’t want WoW but a Diablo based MMO. It did not take me much time to realize that much of the underpinnings of WoW were lifted straight from Diablo, right down to gear drops and such. It is not the same lore, and it is a bit brighter in places (though you spend a whole act in Diablo II in a brightly lit desert) but WoW, at its mechanics core, is very close to what a Diablo MMO might have been.
All of which lays at least a groundwork of familiarity with Blizzard and its games.
WoW While in Norrath
I think I first heard WoW mentioned on our guild voice coms at some point in December 2004. It was becoming clear that all was not well with EverQuest II. There were lots of updates as SOE scrambled to adjust the formula of the game to try and stem the flow of players from the game, either headed back to EQ or off to WoW. The words about WoW were not kind. It was derided as a colorful kiddie game, not a real MMORPG like EQ was.
But those doing the grumbling had also pinned their hopes on Brad McQuaid’s Vanguard as the real successor to EQ, though, so far as I know, not one of those people grumbling ended up in Vanguard. Instead, they all migrated to WoW eventually. Even Wooflin, our guild leader, and the most anti-WoW voice in the guild.
March 2005 – I Go to Azeroth
The weekend of my birthday, at the prodding of a friend from the EQ days, I bought a copy of World of Warcraft, created an account, and attempted to play. It did not impress me.
Part of the problem was that I bought it on a Friday evening on the way home from work and it required so much patching, which moved so slowly on our rinky dink, but not bad for the time ADSL internet connection, that I did not get to character creation until Sunday morning.
The patcher was so bad back in the day that, when I did start playing, I had a paid account at File Planet because they would host the updater and you could download it quickly and apply the patch long before the default patcher would even realize it needed to update.
Annoyed by that… you buy a game, you want to play that night… I was in no mood for anything when I rolled up a dwarf paladin. That didn’t click with me at all. Bland snowy terrain, ugly cartoon character models, none of the depth of EQII, not even any housing, I wasn’t having it. I played a couple more days then cancelled before my initial 30 days expired. I went back to the guild and told them how much it sucked.
Late 2005 Return
But EQII was sucking a bit as well, with constant changes and updates along with stability problems from time to time. We made it pretty well into the first expansion, Desert of Flames, but people in our guild were dropping out of the game, and most of them were headed to World of Warcraft. (Though I recall one person, Oteb maybe, who went straight to EVE Online.) Meanwhile, more people I knew outside the guild were also talking about WoW. Maybe six months later I renewed my account there and rolled up a new character on the Hyjal server, where some friends were playing.
Of course, they were all much higher level than I was, so it was sort of a side venture to hang out and chat with them now and then. I was still more serious about playing EQII. But the guild there began a full on run for the doors, and those of us from TorilMUD decided we needed to head into Azeroth as a group. And so I ended up on another server, Eldre’Thalas in early 2006. It was after Desert of Flames but before Kingdom of Sky. I know this because I never purchased the latter.
Twilight Cadre and Servers
When the TorilMUD faction washed up on Azeroth’s shore we decided to create a guild… because of course we did. Back on TorilMUD we had been the Shades of Twilight guild, and had even managed to create an alt guild in EQII with the same name. But that name, and most obvious variations, had already been taken in WoW. Eventually we went with Twilight Cadre, which has to be something I came up with, having a vaguely Soviet feel to it. But I cannot say for sure if that was so, just that we adopted it.
We were not much of a guild though. I think many of us were a bit burned out by our time in EQII. I pottered around, made the human pally that remains my “main” on retail through to today, along with a few other alts, getting to around level 40 and losing my way. It was almost all solo. Some people got more into it and joined raiding guilds. But this was the time of server splits, and a couple of raiding guilds, and my friends in them, went off to new servers.
I also rolled a couple characters on Hyjal only to have the people I knew there disappear when their raiding guild opted to take a free server transfer to a new realm.
On Eldre’Thalas activity tapered off and with the impending arrival of the Echoes of Faydwer expansion in EQII… expansion number three… and its promise to revive the game and get back to a more EverQuest-like theme, WoW didn’t have much of a hold on me.
The Instance Group Forms
In September 2006 I started the blog, so events start to have hard dates… at least if I had a mind to write about them at the time. The early days here were somewhat chaotic when it came to figuring out what I ought to record.
One key post in hindsight, made just 16 days into the life of the blog, was about changing my solo ways with WoW, which had been the default for many months. I don’t remember why I dropped Skronk a line, but he was interested in playing WoW with me. He was already playing, had something of a group, but was on yet another server, which was ever the problem back in the day.
Somehow I was able to convince him to start over on Eldre’Thalas. I had already taken over ownership of the Twilight Cadre guild, so we rolled up new characters, I invited them in, and the instance group began.
Tales of Dungeon Crawls
At this point there is a paper trail of blog posts. I have a nice summary post about the instance group in vanilla WoW with all the dates. We played through until March, when Earl had to move across the country. During that time the four of us remaining ran off to play LOTRO at launch.
Earl returned in September and we picked up again at Zul’Farrak and played on through and got our epic mounts.
We moved on into The Burning Crusade and got fairly far, but eventually tapered off before we had finished all of the instances. We were struggling a bit as a group and had been playing for ages straight through, so there was a bit of a break once we got our flying mounts. The next item on our list was Warhammer Online, which brought us together in late summer of 2008.
Also, somewhere in here, before WotLK, I setup an account for my daughter who had been watching me play. She was about six and now, nearly a dozen years later, she scolds me for letting her play WoW at such a young age. I think Pokemon is her main gaming with daddy memory, but WoW is a close second. My mother also picks up the game and at some point we have a three generation group going on.
She drew this picture in KidPix to commemorate the event.
Now she has PhotoShop and is taking AP Art and does amazing work.
Wrath of the Lich King
Probably the high point of the group and my longest continuous stretch of playing WoW. I was there from the pre-expansion events… remember the plague… through until Cataclysm launched.
I should go through and create summary posts for the instance group in each expansion at some point. But for now it was quite the time. We jumped from Warhammer Online into the launch of the expansion and carried on as before. We finished up the instances that were available, then there was something of a break. We did spend some time as Horde, but didn’t get too far. But I didn’t leave, and kept on going with the Argent Tournament until I had earned every item it had to offer.
The instance group came back to WoW when Cataclysm hit. The old world had been reworked and we rolled up a fresh group to experience it. Unfortunately, the world had gotten much easier. (Or we had gotten less bad. Or maybe both.) Reworked instances and the dungeon finder and all that combined to make for an unsatisfying experience. We got bored and stopped playing. However, I was still subscribed because I opted in for the offer to get a free copy of Diablo III if I subscribed to WoW for a year.
Long term subscription offers always seem to coincide with player unrest in WoW. When the year finally ended I wrote a post about my final achievement and predicted that while I might come back to visit that I would never be as invested in the game again.
The Year Off
I spent a full year away from WoW, during which many other games were played. The instance group went to EverQuest II and Rift for a while. There was a return to LOTRO. I think I finally got through Moria then. But Blizz was not spoken of for a long stretch as the stink of Cataclysm remained in our nostrils.
Pandas Come Calling
After a year or so things were idle, the group was on a break, and I was looking for something to do. Blizz, in an uncharacteristically well timed move, sent me a note that Mists of Pandaria was half price. So I bought a copy and went back to give it a try, and it was delightful.
MoP was probably some of the best PvE content ever in an MMO. On expansions for me it ranks only behind Wrath of the Lich King for my level of satisfaction. I rolled through and did the dailies got most of the factions to exalted (examined here), worked up with pet battles, did the LFR to see the fall of Garrosh, and got that azure water strider, probably the most OP broken mount that Blizz has ever handed out. I used it constantly on my main and alts for years.
The instance group came back towards the end as well, and we did some of the instances with our original characters. We also did the Cata instances, including the raids redone as five person dungeons, and they were all pretty damn good. We warmed to WoW again as a group.
Warlord of Draenor and the Big Fall
The build up to WoD was huge. Blizz was promising to get back to some old school orc shenanigans with what seemed like a re-roll of The Burning Crusade. And, according to Tom “they should never let me speak off script ever” Chilton, garrisons were going to be housing for WoW.
In hindsight, it wasn’t a bad expansion. There was good overland content and such. But it did not live up to the hype, and garrisons backfired in a big way, becoming grindy little hidey holes that took people out of the world just like Blizz said housing would, but did not provide any of the player satisfaction that housing does in other games. Subscription numbers tanked, falling back to 2005 levels and causing Blizz to stop reporting them.
The instance group did a few dungeons, but we were fading by then. Life was getting in the way and the passion was not there. In April 2015 we ran what remains the last dungeon in retail WoW we did as a group. I took a big break in there, though came back before the next expansion and did what I needed to do to unlock flying.
Legion was good. I played it through with multiple alts. It was enjoyable. I unlocked flying, which has now become something of the benchmark “I really played this expansion” achievement. But it was completely solo experience. I did a few Dungeon Finder groups for quests, but gave up on that. I hate those groups not because people are hostile or toxic or don’t talk, but because they are all about getting things done. You are at a run through the whole thing and then it is over and I barely know what really transpired. Just follow the tank, hit what they hit, move on.
In all I played about ~15 months out of the two years that Legion was the main content. Not bad. I ended up with seven or eight characters at the level cap, including a Horde character.
Battle for Azeroth
I wanted to like BFA, thinking that Blizz had figured stuff out with Legion. But the broken content scaling that favored either people who upgraded no gear or who went epic made the whole thing a grind. After getting used to class reworks in Legion having to relearn them yet again threw more cold water on my enthusiasm. It was an expansion where I liked the world but had no love for the updated mechanics. Only my main has hit max level there and I have not unlocked flying yet, though I still have a year to go.
WoW Classic – The Second Coming of WoW
And then there was WoW Classic, which launched back at the end of August. You can follow the WoW Classic tag to see all I’ve written about it. (This post will be at the top the day it goes live, so scroll down.)
My hopes for it were tentative. I’ve gone back to retro/fresh start servers before in EQ, EQII, Rift, and LOTRO, and they are fun for openers, but they have an expiration date, a point when the joy fades and I just stop logging in.
WoW Classic also relaunched the instance group and my baseline hope was that we could get together and run Deadmines again. That seemed viable. Instead we have carried on. For the last couple of months WoW Classic has easily been my most played game. And even this month, where it has gotten some serious competition from EverQuest II due to its anniversary, it is still getting a lot of play time.
If you’ve read my annual predictions, you know I am wrong way more often than not when trying to see into the future. But it sure seems like I’ll be sticking with WoW Classic for a while. It is also likely that I’ll buy the next WoW expansion and probably play a bit in that, though now I only have a single character at level cap and ready to move on to the next thing.
What Blizz does with the WoW Classic idea over time will play into how invested I remain in the game. If they do “off year” updates and give us The Burning Crusade Classic and Wrath of the Lich King Classic I will no doubt dive into those. A new branch of content based on WoW Classic would be interesting as well, though I am not sure Blizz has the mental flexibility to manage that. They have grown too big and the whole company depends too much on WoW revenue to gamble, which means that things will likely stay safe and dull. We shall see.
And so it goes, my general tale of my time in Azeroth. When I had the idea for this I was somewhat determined to create a hard timeline based on blog posts. But we’re past 3,000 words with just my vague, hand waving tale. Imagine how long it would have gotten if I nailed down dates? I don’t think either you or I have the time for that!