Oddly enough, this post was inspired by Eldoric‘s series of blog posts about the different tank classes (at the point of me writing this, there’s the two linked; no favoritism or anything!). Don’t ask me where the connection is, though. My mind works in mysterious ways. Anyway, you can find Eldoric’s blog posts over at overraidedblog.com. Overraided is generally a very nice blog with several different writers covering different topics using different styles, so I encourage everyone who hasn’t visited the site to give them a look (I will so boost their visitor numbers by, like, seven! Awesome!).
On a side note, I had way too many ideas for the title of this one. From hourglasses over sands of time (and Prince of Persia — I’m such a geek sometimes) to a walk on memory lane I had any title imaginable in my head at some point. Curiously (again, my mind is a confusing place), the first thing I came up with was ‘Where Are My Elephants?’
By the Mighty Zoos!
I haven’t been to a zoo in what feels like ages. More likely than not, this is a false perception on my part, as it cannot have been much more than three years. It feels way longer, though. Probably because we (my parents and two siblings; yes, I am a sandwich child, before anyone asks) used to go to a zoo at least two times a year when I was little. I wrote “a zoo” instead of “the zoo” because although most times we would go to the local zoo situated about 15 kilometres (~ 9-10 miles) from our home, we occasionally went to others zoos within a 1-2 hours’ drive radius. Additionally, we would sometimes go to the zoo when visiting friends or relatives who lived in remote ( from us) places throughout the country (the zoo visits on these occasions were rare, but they did happen). And since my family has moved several times over the last three decades, I have seen quite a few different zoos.
I love zoos. I love walking through the greenhouses: the soft, warm soil under your feet (I’d go barefeet if I was allowed to); the warm, thick, humid air that fills your lungs (I’d always breathe in as deep as I could the moment I stepped into a greenhouse); the sweat that builds on your forehead because of the warm climate; the sounds of chirring crickets and buzzing bees you rarely see; the ripple of water somewhere (in some houses you’d have a waterfall, which was always a reason for an excited yelp); the chirping and tweeting of exotic, colorful birds; the smell of scarlet, snowwhite, marine blue, and otherwise coloured lilies and orchids and what-have-you; and the feeling when a big, dark green leaf slightly grazes your skin.
The only thing better than these houses are the animals. From parrots over lions to elephants and bears, you can see the most marvellous assembly of creatures this planet has to offer. I would stand in front of the tigers’ compound forever, until an irritated parent called me to join them again so we could “please move on.” I would see if there was any possibility to feed the giraffes (a few zoos will let you do things like this). I would tiptoe through the houses of nocturnal animals, always on guard for anything pouncing out of the shadows (I’m prone to wincing at the smallest things).
Azeroth — A Big Zoo
But what has all this to do with World of Warcraft, I hear you ask.
Why, what a coincidence you should ask. I was just about to tell you.
When I started playing the game it felt very much like a zoo to me. Not only were the trees huge and the whole environment seemed foreign and exotic, but the wildlife of Azeroth seemed so familiar (from what you had seen in zoos) and yet so different from anything you had ever laid eyes upon. My first character, a female night elf hunter during Vanilla beta (remember I was a teenager back then; plus, I love the elves in Lord of the Rings — I have an Elvish dictionary, for Christ’s sake — which made night elves the obvious choice), would walk reverently through Teldrassil with its jungle-like foreign blue-green colour palette and its spiders, owls and — most of all — night sabers.
It blew my mind when I realised this was a giant tree I was standing on — which didn’t happen until I played my rogue in the actual Vanilla WoW and did the level 10 rogue quest (you had to go to the rim of Teldrassil where, on a narrow branch with miles of nothing beneath it, there stood a sartyr you had to pickpocket — it was really quite challenging at the time since the sartyr would see you if you attempted a frontal approach and the branch was too damn narrow to do anything else; if you were unlucky, you had to wait up to ten minutes for the sartyr to move into an opportune position, all the while you were completely unnerved by the possibilities of being beaten to death upon discovery and falling off the world upon stumbling; I love this quest so much). Why I didn’t realize it before? Who expects mountains to grow on a tree? To me, Teldrassil was an island with a rim of mountains (indeed, I think it was lazily built like that in Vanilla), and Rut’theran village was the only place with access to the rest of the world not because it was at the roots of a tree, but because it wasn’t encased in mountains. This is one thing I think Cataclysm did very well. Now, when I am in Rut’theran, the actual roots of the tree seem more like just that: roots. Plus, you can now fly up there and see the trunk, branches and twigs, which helps with the whole idea of this being a huge tree.
When I got to places like Ashenvale and Felwood I would marvel at my beautiful and sometimes somewhat eerie surroundings (I was on the edge of my seat most of the time anyway, so I didn’t need additional eeriness; I would flinch every time a mob turned in the direction of my stealthed self), while I would stand agape in front of the animals in places like the Un’Goro Crater, Feralas, and even the Barrens (in spite of the scenery, the wildlife there — and trade chat I hear — is very interesting). Has anyone else ever noticed that most exotic places seem to be located on Kalimdor? With the notable exceptions of Stranglethorn Vale (which always felt like a drag when questing there) and the Swamp of Sorrows (which gives me the willies), the Eastern Kingdoms seem the less exotic, but more shifting-between-light-and-dark-zones continent. Before the Cataclysm, anyway.
Expansions (Not) Expanding Excitement
I had the same feeling when I stepped through the Dark Portal and leveled through the remnants of Draenor. To me, Outland was to Azeroth what Azeroth was to the real world. It felt somewhat familiar, but still was completely different. Yet another batch of marvellous scenery and wildlife (if you can call the different kinds of demons wildlife) to explore and just take in like a deep breath in a greenhouse.
Then, Wrath of the Lich King happened. And while places like Dragonblight, the Howling Fjord, and Sholazar Basin were, indeed, some of the most stunning places to look at, it didn’t feel quite as awe-inspiring as the previous times. Actually, I was lucky enough to choose the Howling Fjord as my first leveling zone. That first long boat ride through sheets of floating ice and fjords with burning ship wrecks stapled to the cliffs and Vrykul buildings seemingly build into the rock was a breath-taking experience. However, the amazement didn’t last as long as previously.
Where Outland had fascinated me even on the fourth walk-through (with the exception of the blasted Nesingwary who had you kill 184[!!] animals — I’ll trust Wowhead although I could’ve sworn we had three quests per species at 30 a quest plus the boss animals; maybe it just felt that long and arduous? — I have no idea how the wildlife there managed to live through the massacre that is questing in Nagrand), Northrend already seemed dull the second time around. Come to think of it, Northrend remained exciting to me as long as it did more because of the lore figures you met along the way and the stories surrounding them (OMG! Alexstrasza! And Krasus! I just read a novel about them! /nerdgasm) than because of the landscape or what roamed its plains.
Was it, maybe, because my priorities in the game had shifted from getting to know the world to “How can I get more epixx?” ? Although this may have been a factor, somehow I doubt that. And here is why: I didn’t feel the amazement of the first expansions in Cataclysm, either.
The Power of
I know that Cataclysm is a revamp, so why should anyone feel like this was new at all? Right? Let me explain.
When I first walked the streets and forests and deserts of Azeroth, I was amazed by the scenery. I was baffled by its inhabitants. I was mesmerized by its architecture. What I didn’t care about as much in the original game was the lore, the story behind everything I saw. From the rare times I played Warcraft III all I knew was who Arthas and Tyrande and Illidan and Thrall and all the major players there were. I didn’t know anything about the history of Azshara, about the reasons for the corruption in Felwood, or why there was a little boy standing in front of the throne in Stormwind. Leveling up, I cared (looking back I want to add the word ‘surprisingly’) little about things like that. Yes, I realized them, but I didn’t question what I was given. I worked with and around them.
Around the launch of WotLK, I read my first Warcraft novels (the War of the Ancients trilogy by Richard Knaak). Day of the Dragon, Lord of the Clans and The Last Guardian (not the UK newspaper, either) followed quickly. During the same time, I started reading blogs and listening to podcasts about WoW. The first WoW blog I read regularly was Qieth’s Quips (who has quasi-retired since) because my main at the time was a balance druid. Slowly, but steadily, the list of blogs I read grew. When, after a surprisingly long time of reading several blogs, I came across the Know Your Lore column of WoW Insider (written by the silver-tongued Matthew Rossi and the gigglicious Anne Stickney), I knew I was home. My interest for lore was kindled. This was around the time of the hell that was the Argent Crusade.
So, naturally I was hyped when Cataclysm was announced. After all, I knew who Deathwing, or the artist formerly known as Neltharion the Earth-Warder, was. I knew why he had been in Deepholm. I knew what Deepholm was, for that matter. I knew what all this was about. I was more in tune with the story than ever before. I didn’t care what loots there would be, what abilities the bosses would have or what the best tactics to downing them would be. I just wanted to see and absorb everything Blizzard would throw at me. And I was not disappointed …
Cataclysm and Beyond
… at first. Very soon after the release, though, my excitement ebbed down until it vanished. I love the new quests, and I have so many quests I still can do. I haven’t done half the Alliance quests and almost none of the Horde ones. But I can’t convince myself to do them. And I don’t know why. I love the story behind Cataclysm, and I want to explore all of Azeroth for the second time, to see what has changed. But I simply can’t muster enough of a motivation to do it. The flame of wonder is extinguished at the moment.
For me, there simply isn’t as much excitement to play the game anymore. And it has nothing to do with repetitive game mechanics, boring class abilities or stale talent trees.
I really hope that Mists of Pandaria can rekindle that flame. It certainly has both the scenery and the possibilities for new, awesome lore to do so.