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Have you ever walked through the town of your choice — be it big cities like Stormwind or Orgrimmar, forlorn capital cities like the Exodar or Silvermoon, or little townships or camps like Nijel’s Point in Desolace or Desolation Hold in the Southern Barrens — and someone walked or flew by you and you recognized them instantly? Maybe you just read their name tag. Hopefully, though, you recognized them by their silhouette (maybe you are like me and have nameplates turned off for both ally and foe).

Silhouettes are an easy way to make an impression. Let’s do a little test, shall we? Here I took a few screenshots of WoW celebrities. Can you recognize all five of them?

(solution: 1. Deathwing, 2. Thrall, 3. Arthas as the Lich King, 4. Kel’Thuzad, 5. Garrosh Hellscream)

Well, how many did you get right? Tell me in the comments. Now back to your regularly scheduled programme.

Of course, silhouettes are not the only way to be recognized. Mixing and matching colours for astonishing-looking armour sets is one of the most fun you can have with transmogrification. In fact, more so than a silhouette, colours make you stand out even more from the croud. If you look at any of the many fabulous transmogrification websites and blogs (Go Mog Yourself, for example) you will see that their primary concern is probably colour matching, not creating unique silhouettes. You can have the most interesting silhouette, and it will make a hell of an impression if you are far away or shrouded in mist or shadow. Once you step out of the shadow, however, you might not have the same impact on people. Or a completely different one:

What has all this to do with anything? Well, Blizzard has shown their tendency towards more asymmetrical armour sets and other little things lately. You just have to take a look at the Mists of Pandaria sets; almost none of those are symmetrical. Here is a quick example:

The upper image is the rogue challenge mode set in a golden tone. The two images below are what the set would look like if it was symmetrical either way. Now you might think “That’s not that bad? I don’t like any of them / I like all of them.” It doesn’t look like there’s much of a difference, does it? Well, let’s see what happens when we simplify these into silhouettes:

Sure, they still all look kinda cool and mysterious. But I would say that the upper image looks way more interesting than the lower two. Don’t you?

As you can see from this short example, an asymmetrical aspect on your armor makes your character quite a bit more interesting. Assymetry in your shoulders isn’t the only thing that can influence your silhouette and appearance. During the last BlizzCon, Blizzard have stated that they will try to make more armor pieces stand out on their own. The first thing we see the effect of this on are belts — belt buckles, specifically. Looking at a few of the new belts, we can see once more how they change your appearance. From the same set of armour as before:


Notice how the upper belt (the rogue Tier 13 belt) has absolutely no impact on your silhouette? Now compare this to the lower belt (the rogue challenge mode armour). What a difference!

Although Blizzard may have gone a bit overboard on the size of the belt buckles (who would wear a belt with a buckle that big? It would slow you down tremendously), it’s nice to see this change. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Imagine a world (of warcraft) in which every piece of your armour looked and behaved like it would in real life. That would be incredible. And nearly impossible to code, I would think.

But we don’t have to have it all in place perfectly. And not all at once. Belts and shoulder pieces are only the first steps into a less flat character silhouette and therefore, a more dynamic character appearance.

I asked on Twitter what some of your favourite armour sets were. Now let me entertain you with what some of these armour sets could look like on your characters. All I did was take screenshots from WoW Model Viewer and paint over them. You might not see much of a difference, but if you look closely, you might see a few surface changes. The red arrows and the few sketches from the side might help indicate changes, too. It’s not much, but it should give you an impression of what your character might look like if Blizzard keeps going in the interesting silhouette direction.

Edit: Maybe I should end on something like a disclaimer: while old armour sets are fun, I don’t think it’s feasible to expect Blizzard to retroactively change old armour sets to fit the “new” model. They would have to redo most of the sets completely. But if we arrive at the point where feathers stand out like feathers, plates are stacked on plates and cloth flows like cloth at SOME point, I’ll be really happy.

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Update: Fortunately for the spell, but unfortunately for the fun you could have with it, the issue with Chi Wave seems to have been fixed in a recent Beta build. Additionally, Jasmine Force Tea, an ability that could supply you with Chi for a small mana cost (read: eternally if out of combat), is gone, which slows down Chi generation outside of combat dramatically.

I was strolling around in Ashenvale on my Mistweaver monk today — just a normal day in the life of a cuddly, questing bear — when suddenly …

In order to get rid of my Chi, I decided to cast a Chi Wave.

As some might already know, Chi Wave is an instant cast that you can cast on either friend or enemy and that will bounce up to four times, always from friend to enemy or the other way around (creating either three heals and two damage ticks or three damage ticks and two heals). So, imagine my surprise when …

And go to Orgrimmar, I did.

And this is when it hit me … If all of this worked, maybe I could even … ?

No, that would be too good!

Haha! Hit you right in the face, Garrosh! What are you gonna do now, huh?!

And after this had worked, I just had to try and kill someone with it. Death by Chi Wave, so to speak.

15 minutes later …

Another 5 minutes later …

I’m sorry, priests, but I couldn’t let you learn how to kill your allies, too, now could I? (also: she was level 60! Where is you hit point regeneration NOW?!)

Satisfied and with a smirk on my face I turned around to go back to questing.

But then I saw him.

I could kill him!

I never had anything against the dude, per se, but damnit, I couldn’t let the opportunity to kill a celebrity from my own faction slide, could I?

And so, this beloved hero of the Horde found his end at the hands of Chi Wave.

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I am not sure this is one of my better ideas, but I am going to take a leap of — well, not really a leap of faith per se as I don’t have all that much faith in myself.

I have been meaning to get back into blogging for a while now, but I never really knew what I should write about. I am someone who needs a great deal of inspiration to think of something to write, and then I have to deem it worthwhile. Not exactly worth my while, but worth the time the readers put into reading my outpourings — and much has to happen to convince myself anything of mine is worth anyone else’s time. As I said, not much faith in myself.

Now, I normally think about stuff for a long while until I write about it. I am not the impulsive type, but I am also always willing to test something new. And this time, the latter outweighs the former.

You see, Cynwise (who has to be one of my role models when it comes to blogging) wrote an article a while ago about how he didn’t think so much about what others did and just wrote stuff to get it out of his system. He didn’t correct things afterwards, didn’t even proofread them. That impressed me, to say the least. I don’t know if I was just the lucky reader of a singular tweet or if this is an actual “thing,” but someone (I honestly don’t remember who it was, sorry!), upon reading the article, dubbed this method the “Cynwisean School of Blogging.”

And I am going to test it. Right now.

Well, alright, I might actually proofread this when I am done, but that is mostly because I think in very not-straight-forward ways, therefore change the structure of my sentences five times while writing them, and I am not a native speaker of English. The small “benefit” of grammatical proofreading is all I am granting myself, though. No changing whole paragraphs or deleting sections.

So, onto the actual article …

Race Doesn’t Matter (To Most)

As some of you might know, I am German. Now, we Germans are generally not very comfortable when asked to talk about “race.” Even the word sends a chill down our spines. Mind you, that is most Germans, not all of them. Some are dumb enough to not have moved on — there’s a black sheep in every family, I guess (not that there’s anything wrong with being a black sheep — damnit, I’m doing it again!) — and others are courageous enough to admit past mistakes and move past them.

But this just as an aside. I am not talking about race in the real world, but in the context of World of Warcraft.

The question I came to ask myself lately is if race in WoW does even matter anymore. I don’t have a universal answer to that question, mind you, only my own thoughts and opinions. And in my opinion it does matter, albeit not to a very large degree. However, the question cannot be answered quite that easily. When considering if race is important, one has to look at the different types of players and what race means to them.

As we all know, choosing a race for your character does not only provide you with a certain appearance. Besides getting the muscles of a male orc or the (arguably) perfectly shaped (lol)butt(lol) *wink* of a female night elf, you are also granted certain racial abilities and bonuses. Some of those bonuses grant extra utility while other have advantages in combat or in trade. While some players choose to see these racial bonuses as just that — bonuses –, to others these abilities are a pivotal factor when choosing a race, to the point that they will pay real life money to change the race of their characters to get the “better” racial abilities.

In the following paragraphs, I will be taking a closer look into the relationships between players and the races of their characters by creating a few player archetypes (who are just inventions by me, so there will be no clever citing and adapting of sources here; no copyright infringement or anything of the sort is intended) and assessing how much the race of a character matters to each archetype. I will focus mainly on PvE content, as I consider PvP to be a very different environment from PvE; plus, my experiences with PvP, though going back 6 years, are very lacking. As with all archetypes, they are theoretical categorizations, which means that you will be hard-pressed to find perfect examples of any archetype in nature — or in World of Warcraft. Most people reading this will probably come to the conclusion that they are a mixture of all of the archetypes below, to different degrees, or even conclude that they don’t belong to any of them.

1. The Hardcore Raider

For the context we are talking about, “hardcoreness” (which is not a very exact type of measurement, as you might imagine) is defined by the following criteria:

  • The hardcore raider raids more than 12 hours per week (randomly picked number) stretched out over several days of raiding — maybe between 3 and 7.
  • The hardcore raider is not very interested in any other aspect of the game other than raiding. You will probably not see them roleplaying very much.
  • The hardcore raider is aiming for perfect performance and will do everything in their power to get the most out of their character.

For the hardcore raider, appearance is a very important part of their gaming experience. However, this appearance is linked to the things the player has achieved in the raiding environment and not to the physical (or pixulated) appearance of their toon. Most hardcore raiders won’t care much about what their characters look like and, consequently, are less likely to use tools like transmogrification to alter their toons’ appearances. If anything, they will leave their gear unaltered to “show off the sweet gear” they have obtained through their mastery of the game. Of course, this particular vanity has more to do with the accomplishments linked to said gear than with the gear itself. And since gear does not change (much) with race, the physical appearance the race provides is not a consideration for the hardcore raider. To them, the racial abilities are a much bigger concern. After all, the way your warlock waves their arms when casting a Shadowbolt wouldn’t have averted a 1% wipe (and potentially granted you a world-, region- or server-first kill), while 1% extra crit or an extra 20% haste cooldown popped at the right time might have done the trick.

2. The Achievement Hunter

If we are talking achievement hunters, I should specify that:

  1. We are not talking about the hunter class.
  2. I will leave guild achievements, especially the likes of “Stay Classy,” out of the equation. We are only concerned with personal achievements in this context.

The achievement hunter couldn’t care less about race, as there are no race-related achievements. Well, that is not exactly true. There are certain achievements that will be made easier through special racial abilities. The goblin Rocket Jump might make difficult terrain more accessible, while humans get 10% extra reputation, which makes grinding rep a whole lot easier. However, apart from that, races don’t contribute anything to the hunt for achievements.

3. The Professional

There are people in WoW who live for only one goal: to satisfy their needs, their wallets, and their customers. Now, I am not talking about Goldshire RP, nor am I suggesting illegal activities of any sort. I am, of course, talking about professions. Some WoW players have found their calling in forging swords (and documents), enchanting chests (not like that!), fishing Murglesnout, and cooking delicious meals. For a price, of course. Not for nothing is nothing for nothing. For the professionally-ambitioned WoW player races have only one real appeal: the profession bonuses some races get. What is better than 15 extra points of Engineering, I ask you? Nothing, that’s what!

4. The World of Dresscraft Player

Hail thee, almighty transmogrification! The World of Dresscraft player (this term was not invented by me and, unfortunately, I do not know who coined it; however, Vidyala might have been one of the first to use it, and Manalicious is certainly the place I’ve come across it first) is all about outward appearance. Both the appearance of their gear (albeit for cosmetic purposes, unlike the hardcore raider) and their race is of the utmost importance. They will change their looks at least once a week. While most World of Dresscraft players have focussed on the “more beautiful” races and aim for beauty and perfection, some have made it their goal to create the most horrific combinations of race and gear and thus create the ultimate fashion abomination.

5. The Never-OOC Roleplayer

Roleplayers are hard to define. Many roleplayers will behave similarly to a World of Dresscraft player in that they will search for the perfect (read: most fitting) combination of race and gear. However, there is more to roleplayers than outward appearance. They shape out their characters’ backstories in addition to their looks. They like to play with stereotypes, either confirming them or acting outside them (or some clever middle way where the toon tries to escape stereotypes and is appaled by them, yet only acts on them and therefore confirms them … what was I talking about?), and interracial conflicts. As such, the race per se is more important to the roleplayer that its innate looks. Racial bonuses don’t play any role here — or if they do, they are integrated into the character, not innate to the race. So might one gnome be an escape artist, yet another one will never be able to get out of trouble. Or the worgen “curse” might have rejuvenated an old Gilnean citizen who, through transforming to a worgen, has found their long forgotten adolescent strength and might never transform back into a human out of fear that old age will cripple them once again. Or … — well, let’s just say the possibilities are endless.

Race or Class?

It can clearly be seen from the preferences of the above archetypes that races in WoW aren’t merely defined through their appearance, but also by special abilities. One might say that Blizzard is racist to assume that certain races have certain racial traits that are exclusive to that race, but let’s not open that can of worms. The racial traits are there to make choosing a race more meaningful and intriguing. Plus, the bonuses are, in most circumstances, pretty insubstantial — to make choosing a race less meaningful from a gameplay perspective.

Now, the last two sentences might seem contradictory, but only so if we see race as an isolated criteria. However, the next thing after choosing a race is choosing the class of your toon. The class of your toon has a much heavier impact on your gaming experience than their race does (for most players; if all you do is crafting items and selling them on the auction house, you couldn’t care less what class your toon is). This is due to the fact that classes play a lot more differently from each other than races do. For example, classes have a myriad of abilities and mechanics unique to them, while races only have a few. A troll rogue will play very much like a night elf rogue — and this has nothing to do with their shared heritage (face the facts, elves!). Conversely, a troll rogue and a troll mage will play massively different from each other.

The real question when considering this now becomes: if choosing a class is more important to playing the game than race, why do we generally have starting zones for races, not classes?

Classless Society

Let’s look at starting zones. A worgen warlock will play the same starting zone as a worgen warrior does. That, per se, is not a problem. Playing through the zones for each race, you get a good look at their culture, their habits and quirks, their struggles, their mindsets, and their attitudes towards other individuals both of their and of other races. This, and the story lines specific to those zones, help you immerse yourself into the game better. However, these zones have one flaw: they don’t tell you anything of import about your class. Whether you’re a rogue or a priest, the quest givers and NPCs (and most players, too) will treat you the same. The only quests that are different in those zones are the “learn your first new ability and use it on a dummy” quests — and those were only added with Cataclysm — and one class quest around level 10. However, they don’t tell you very much about what it is like to be a mage in contrast to a rogue or priest. This sweeping under the rug of class, sadly, continues throughout all of your questing experience.

Class-specific quests like pick-pocketing a certain guy are all too rare and, unfortunately, tell you little to nothing about what it is to be a rogue. I take rogues as an example here because of the recent addition of their legendary quest line. Now that are class-specific quests! Sure, they are very challenging, but at least they give you the feeling of being a rogue, not a dagger- or sword-wielding warrior who happens to wear leather.

I would love to see class becoming a more important factor in your leveling experience. Show the rogues that they are rogues, not some blood elf / dwarf / gnome / goblin / human / night elf / orc / troll / undead / worgen that uses energy and has abilities X, Y and Z at their disposal. And, to be even more demanding, tell them how to use X, Y and Z properly, while you’re at it.

How to Integrate Class into Starting Zones and Beyond

In theory, this is really easy to do, but it does require some effort.

Starting zones are there to introduce you to the game and your place in it. The first five or six levels are usually spent in the first subzone, opening up after that. When you first learn a new ability, you have a special quest teaching you how to use this ability. Then, around level 10, you get one class-specific quest where you have to do something that “only you can do.” What if we took those level 10 quests (or level 8-15, depending on when you get them) and eloborate on them? Instead of one quest where you use one ability, make it a sort of mini-training camp for your class. Once you have completed your first task, you are asked to complete another, with a focus on another aspect of the class, and then another and then another and so on. You could easily go with five quests for each class.

Ideally, these quests would become available (and probably mandatory) at level 10, when you can choose your spec. The quests would first teach you about the class per se. Then there might be a quest to show you differences between your class and others (although I don’t think that will be added since there is a chance that new players might become wound up in a vicious circle of getting to level 10 and then starting a new character because the other class always seems cooler). The last three quests would then deal with the respective specs (this is where you could choose a spec) and how they differ from each other — during those quests respeccing would be for free, of course — after which you choose your final spec.

Let’s take the rogue as an example again. The first quest could deal with stealth, how to avoid being seen (like when you try to enter Gilneas or Ravenhold Manor during the rogue legendary quests) and what you can do in stealth. As that would only be Ambush, Sap and Pick Pocket at this point, a stealth quest (chain) could look something like this:

  1. Your trainer sends you to retrieve an important piece of intelligence. First, you have to get through a corridor with NPCs patrolling all over it. Use stealth and your cunning and overview to get through here.
  2. The next corridor is blocked by an NPC standing in the middle (besides more patrols, of course). Sap the blocking NPC and slip through at an opportune time.
  3. Now you need the key to open the vault. Pick another NPC’s pockets without being seen (they are immune to Sap and walk around a bit, making it more difficult).
  4. At last, you stand before the vault. Use the key to open the door. But what is that? Someone is stuffing the intelligence into their bag. You have no choice but to Ambush them and loot their corpse.
  5. Upon looting, you realize that there is a secret passage the other intruder came through. You take this passage and return to your trainer.

Similar to this chain, you could set up some other quests for the different specs.

Of course, this has disadvantages, too. You would have to do the quests on your own. However, 15 minutes apart will hurt almost no group of levelers, and maybe you could even — since this is training — choose to watch your companion do their class quest if you are in a group. Spectator mode, anyone?

After completing these quest chains (which would yield little experience, but maybe nice gear for your class), a new player would have a much better grasp on what it means to be a certain class. And it doesn’t have to stop there. You could insert short quest lines now and again that further your expertise as a member of that class. While I would prefer the first class quest chains at level 10 to be mandatory, the later quests could be voluntary. If you want to further your understanding of the class, you can. If you want to follow the story instead, you can do that, too. Maybe the class quests could even be repeatable (and scaling) quests that you can practice with — or just kill some time with.

The Dead-Headed Stepchild of Starting Zones

There is one starting zone that is very class-specific already: the death knight starting zone. Alas, even this one only covers one aspect of the two most defining traits of your toon: race and class. The death knight starting zone is exactly the same whether you’re a gnome or a tauren. The only difference is when you have to kill your former buddy, who will always be the same race as you are. It seems that WoW can only ever concentrate on one side of the coin. That is sad.

Admittedly, it makes sense for the starting zone to not care about race. After all, you are just a tool for the Lich King. And that guy doesn’t care if you’re a troll, a halforc or part-demon-part-angel-part-nightelf-part-highborn-part-gnome. In that sense, the Lich King is very equal opportunity. If only he could expand that onto living things …

Unfortunately, Blizzard is notoriously bad at connecting these two aspects of race and class. While the other starting zones don’t bother with class at all, this one doesn’t touch race (except for the example above). At the end of that particular starting zone, you are sent to either Orgrimmar or Stormwind, to pledge allegiance to either the Horde or the Alliance. Now, what would prompt a death knight, who has no recollection of their former life — illustrated by the aforementioned kill-your-former-comrad quest (I might be wrong here, as I didn’t pay too much attention when playing through it) — to either join the Horde or the Alliance? Nothing, really, except that you are told, based on your race, to join this or that faction. Your own feelings (hah! Good one!) have no impact here. The worgen and goblin starting zones do a way better job at telling you more about the faction you have joined, albeit out of necessity and without another choice.

Of course, these are cases of gameplay trumps lore. However, I think you could circumvent this easily. It wouldn’t have been too difficult to add a few more quests to the death knight starting experience where Alliance-race DKs can choose to go into a phased version of Orgrimmar and Horde-race DKs into Stormwind, are attacked and barely escape with their lives. Now they go to their (alleged) faction capital, and although they are hated there as well, at least they is no attempt on their lives. You could choose which faction your toon wants to experience first. And although this is only a fake choice (as you will eventually end up in the same faction every time), I maintain that it would be better this way.

While the DK starting zone does a spectacular job at giving you a feel for what it’s like to be a DK, sadly, it doesn’t really teach you about the different specs and important abilities, either. A few voluntary quests would go a long way here as well.

Going Forward with Mists of Pandaria

Seeing the history of how Blizzard has dealt with the different races (and in the case of DKs classes) and their introduction or lack thereof in the leveling experience, I am somewhat worried — and in more than one way — about the upcoming introduction of both pandaren and the monk class. All pandaren share the same starting zone (which has a very intriguing story behind it, by the way), so we can’t expect to see something along the lines of the DK starting zone for the monk. Which is not a bad thing. However, I fear that, as it has been in the past, the pandaren starting zone will be exactly the same for every class the pandaren can choose to play. There will be no pandaren rogue quest to retrieve a special keg of ale piece of intelligence for your trainer, and I doubt there will be specific quest chains for monks of any race. I am also extremely worried about how pandaren will decide between Horde or Alliance and I fear that this aspect, which represents a crucial and pivotal point in the development of your character, will be sold short.

Even the goblin and worgen starting zones basically tell you nothing about the faction quarrel. As a new worgen player (who doesn’t know much about the lore and therefore doesn’t know about the old Alliance of Man) the only thing you know is that the undead are attacking you, driving you into the arms of the night elves, who then become your best friends because they teach you how to control the beast within (which they were responsible for in the first place). Similarly, as a new goblin player you get caught up in the conflict between Horde and Alliance and are forced to join the Horde to survive.

Here, again, we don’t have a real choice as to what you are going to do. The pandaren introduction to the Alliance vs. Horde conflict has to be really good in order for players to make a factional decision that is informed by your experiences with the factions rather than whether your belt (or whatever Blizzard decides to make the bearer [heh!] of visual distinction between Horde and Alliance pandaren) is red or blue.

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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?’

I was awarded this picture when I pasted the post into writtenkitten.net.

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).

Night elves -- they screw up everything, but they have a sense for ambience.

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.

Is all green, Illi-baby, mah man?

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 wisps destroy Archimonde at Mt. Hyjal. Just like I never saw Archimonde die during BC, I was never able to (legitimately) beat this mission in Warcraft III.

The Power of Love Lore

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 …

This picture fits perfectly because it shows something from Mists of Pandaria and at the same time has lore as its focus.

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.

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Hell yeah, that's ingame graphics!

The following post contains spoilers for this year’s BlizzCon (maybe you have the Virtual Ticket and still want to watch ALL THE THINGS?) and for the next expansion of WoW. If you want to remain unspoiled, you might want to avoid this post. And the entirety of the WoW population. And the internet. Basically, dig a hole and get comfortable there. Or don’t. Anyway, you have been warned and won’t be able to sue me for all my cookies.

To get this out of the way, I wasn’t there. Unfortunately, BlizzCon was not in the cards for me, both financially and studies-related (but more financially, to be honest). I did, however, purchase the Virtual Ticket (or the smell-free BlizzCon, courtesy of the Twisted Nether BlizzCon Live Blog), so I was at least able to see all the panels, big announcements and Opening and Closing Ceremonies. And I have to say: it was awesome. And not only the con itself; the Foo Fighters concert was the best (the best, the best, the best of Foo), although I’m probably biased here (what with being a fan and all). My verdict: the virtual ticket (VT) was completely worth it. At least for information-sucking vacuum cleaners like me. “What? A panel on how they made the new Diablo III cinematic? I don’t care too much for Diablo, but … meh, bring it.” If, however, you only wanted to see your favorite Blizzard IP information announced (or drool all over Chris Metzen/Kat Hunter — see, that’s how you stay gender-unspecific), I don’t think the VT would’ve been for you anyway.

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