Muses: World of Warcraft – A Thank You Letter

World of Warcraft has been out for over a decade, roughly a third of my entire life, and it has had a huge impact on me over the years. I played it for nearly 9 years straight, and intermittently following that. I have gone back a few times, and I have always kept an eye on it. Even when I say that I’m done with it, I keep going back and at least checking to see what has changed… and I don’t see that changing.

I’m not going to try to conjure some sob story, because in reality I had a pretty comfy home life. But I did suffer from bullying and social anxiety and I was ostracized a lot in school, so I never really learned how to socialize, how to value people, or how to treat people. Looking back, it is kind of hard to believe I found someone who was able to tolerate the person I was enough to stay with me to become the person I am now… but that’s neither here nor there. The point of this is that when I started playing WoW I was your typical socially awkward, angsty, angry nerd. And while some of that still holds true, I like who I am now. And a lot of that I owe to the experiences I’ve found through gaming, especially WoW. The rest I owe to the one I mentioned a second ago.

World of Warcraft

This post is going to be a combination of reliving some of the great memories and appreciating the impact this game has had on my life. I spent around 9 years with this game. It’s kind of crazy to think that I played the same game for around 1/3 of my entire life, especially thinking about how much has changed in that time. I got married, moved out from my parent’s place, bought a house, got my first full-time job, started a stuffed animal collection, started this website and so much more.

The First Steps…

Thank you for the memories. I still recall my first sojourn into World of Warcraft. The game had just gone into open beta, and I decided to step into it because I was still in love with Warcraft 3. I didn’t expect to like it because I had never really understood the appeal of the MMORPG before then (and my utmost apologies to the friend I alienated by insisting it couldn’t possibly be worth paying every month for the same game back when I was 16 – I was wrong, I’m sorry) but something about that vast world and getting to play as the race I’d loved in Warcraft 3 in a more direct way, almost an intimate way, drew me in right from the start. The open beta was such an interesting first exposure… I made it to around level ~20 in that week, and I remember the last thing I did was go on a quest to find venom sacs that took me into the Stonetalon Mountains. Well, the last thing I did before the world ended and all sorts of demons destroyed everything I’d known. It was glorious.

The world felt so incredibly vast and almost scary back then. Take a wrong turn and you could end up in a place that would just kill you over and over again… the zone progression was so silly in those days but we loved it. I remember, at level 20, exploring Felwood. I must’ve died 30 times, but I got the full zone explored before I could even tell how high level the enemies killing me were. It was weeks before I reached a high enough level to realize just how stupid I had been to go that way.

Illidan

But the dungeons were where WoW really shined. There were some incredible experiences back in those days… completing Blackfathom Deeps for the second time and realizing ‘oh shit, the first time we missed the end boss because we didn’t realize you could open the shrine!’, spending literally hours in Gnomeregan because we constantly wiped to mobs we didn’t realize were in range to pull on us through the wall, or the 8 hour both sides Stratholme guild raids when we were all too tired from the real raids to execute even the most basic mechanics. But I think my favourite dungeon memory of Classic, the one that I constantly come back to when I think of those days was my first time completing Uldaman. Archaedes’ room was the most epic place ever. You just step through a door and are greeted by a circle of dormant stone dwarves, constructs, and this absolutely giant statue in the middle. It was absolutely awe-inspiring… and nothing has ever quite rivaled that moment in my time with this game… and that experience also led to the first WoW guild I joined. My time with that guild was short, but great.

Lessons Learned and Re-Learned

During that time, I also had my one brief period of ‘WoW-fame’. You see, my original hunter was called Seluhir, and while that name probably means nothing nowadays in WoW, back in Classic I was inventing a new way of playing hunters that was hilarious in PvP and pretty close to viable for most content in PvE. I was an Arcane Archer, which basically meant I focused my build around Arcane Shot and the spelldamage gear that made it more powerful in those days. For a while I had a theorycrafting thread discussing the possibilities and the gear options for this build, and during those days I’d frequently have people create level 1 characters on my server to message me asking questions. It was a really interesting experience, and the build was a ton of fun.

Moving forward a bit, when the first expansion came out I actually started over. I changed races, and back then there were no convenience features like ‘character recustomization’ so that meant literally starting a new class. And thus Eleshakai, my Draenei Huntress, was born. Professions were a huge part of the game in those days, and my character was a jeweler. And I was damn proud of that. Back in those days we couldn’t link professions, and the gem patterns were quite rare. This is probably going to sound a little silly, but in this era I learned the value of customer service. You see, by learning what other crafters had to offer, I was able to ensure that anyone who I dealt with got everything they wanted… repeat customers pay a lot, and sometimes I’d get tips for just directing people to someone else who had a rare pattern. It made the professions really feel social, which was really cool. This didn’t last too long as Blizzard implemented more convenience options, but it taught me an important life lesson.

Eleshakai

And then the achievement system came out with all of its vast possibilities. I recall being the first Draenei on my server with Loremaster… that felt good. I recall spending days, weeks, months hunting for mounts and getting the Blue Dragonhawk mount back in the days when it was difficult to do. And through all of these various achievements (as well as a few similar events during earlier days)… I learned how good ‘hard work’ felt. The value of acquiring something through effort. Especially the personal achievements: the ones you had to do on your own.

The other end of this game’s ‘accomplishment’ spectrum offered many lessons in teamwork. I raided seriously through all of Classic, and on and off through Cataclysm. I met numerous amazing people, spent a ridiculous number of hours working through mechanics, lag, gear, bugs, and everything else. And enjoyed nearly every minute of it. Learning my place among such a complicated unit – be it 10, 20, 25, or 40 people – taught me how to trust people.

Strangely, this game with its oft-maligned community taught me a lot about people… but just as importantly, it taught me to appreciate people. Not just the nice people, but everyone. Even the biggest asshats you’ll ever meet have something to teach you but the biggest lesson I learned is simple: If you look for trolls, you’ll find them. So don’t look for them, and you’ll see the rest of what there is out there. And you’ll learn to appreciate all of the good people out there, because they really are the majority… and they’re awesome. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some trolls. Of course there are, but every ‘body’ has an asshole.

Now that we’ve gone over some of the lessons I’ve learned, and some of the highlight moments… I wanted to close out by reliving some of my favourite memories of each of the expansions I spent the most time in.

Where It All Began

Classic was full of some amazing moments… and the nostalgia is strong here because the game was so incredibly new during this era. Blizzard did such amazing things, even if they were very limited in scope… the Ahn’Qiraj Gates Event was an absurd endeavor, both for Blizzard and for us. Judging by the fact that they’ve never repeated it, I assume they see it as a mistake and a learning experience but, having lived through it, it was amazing. We didn’t care that the server crashed a dozen times, that it lagged so much we couldn’t even use raid chat… our entire server’s community had come together to fund this war effort and to see the end results of it. Classic also contained what is unquestionably my proudest WoW achievement: completing the Rhok’Delar quest chain while it was still relevant and difficult. I still recall defeating the Wintersprings demon right as a Horde player ganked me, with the demon dying to the last tick of the empowered dot as I died. Such a crazy moment of abject terror and amazing relief.

Windfang

But the Horde weren’t all bad… I also got one to help me in getting what would become my lifelong pet: Windfang. You see, there was a quest chain that culminated in the summoning of two elite cats with relatively distinct appearances: Sian-Rotam and his mate Shy-Rotam. Shy-Rotam looked like a Wintersaber cat, but with distinct eyes and a subtly different colouring… a simply gorgeous specimen. One nice horde player did me the honour of summoning the cats for me to tame, and Shy-Rotam became the pet I used for the majority of the next 10 years.

Beyond the Dark Portal

Blizzard went back into Warcraft history to find some of the best for us to enjoy with the Burning Crusade. They brought back several of the most prominent heroes from the RTS days and gave us the opportunity to see them in their element. My favourite was Lady Vashj, that fight was a crazy mess. But even seeing the return of characters like Akama and Maiev was such a great touch. And to see them with the improved graphics that an MMORPG offers… so fantastic. And they weren’t the only amazing visual aspects, the zones were so cool. They took such great advantage of the shattered world aesthetic… especially in Nagrand and Netherstorm.

But probably the most impactful and memorable aspect of TBC was a feature that we were all so incredibly excited for when we heard about it: Flight. The ability to explore the world from a whole new perspective – to be able to soar through the sky – was an almost transcendent experience the first time. It really changed everything. It felt so liberating, so powerful… and it also led to one of the most engaging and involved factions Warcraft has known: Netherwing Dragons. The way it all began, the undercover work sabotaging everything, the races… it was such a unique experience. And one they’ve never repeated.

Long Live the Kingslayer

Blizzard started to add a bit more coherence to the World of Warcraft with Wrath of the Lich King… with a massive overarching story that was ever-present throughout the entire expansion. And that story felt so incredible. Start to finish, it was probably the best story that Blizzard has told in Warcraft’s history. The Wrathgate was an absurdly epic cinematic. Icecrown Citadel is probably the best set of dungeons and raids Blizzard has ever designed, complete with story and amazing mechanics. The quest lines, particularly in Dragonblight and Icecrown, were amazing. Arguably the most well-written storyline in WoW’s history existed within Wrath of the Lich King as well. Be honest with me here, who didn’t have to fight back the tears during the Crusader Bridenbrad quest chain – I’m sure the one who it was written in tribute of would’ve been happy to see how well it turned out.

Arthas

The other really cool thing Blizzard introduced, taking cues from other aspects of the gaming industry, was the Achievement System. Man I had so much fun being given a reason to revisit all of the various World Events – and the Violet Proto-drake was such a great reward for it… but there were a few achievements that really drove my playtime. I really enjoyed getting rewarded for exploration… the motivation to go and unlock every tiny little region of every map. While exploring every nook and cranny, I was also discovering the whereabouts of every pet in the game, of every mount I could find. I learned so much more about the game, and got an awesome Blue Dragonhawk mount. But by far my favourite achievement, and the achievement that gave me the title I’ve used for the vast majority of my World of Warcraft life: Loremaster. I loved the game’s storylines, and figuring out how to actually find ~700 quests in Kalimdor was a huge accomplishment. It simply felt so satisfying.

The Shattering

After Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard released what I like to refer to as ‘WoW 2.0’. The Cataclysm gave them motivation to redo all early level questing zones and they did a great job of it. The leveling experience was incredible, both new and old. The revamped zones were a ton of fun, and it was really interesting to see what had happened to all of the NPCs I’d spent so much time questing for in Classic. Was a real nostalgia trip.

But just as important were the new leveling zones. My brother and I leveled from 80 to 85 in a single sitting with a few other friends, going through the various zones and hitting cap in somewhere just over 2 days of consecutive playtime. Was a fantastic experience, and exploring Hyjal, Vash’jir, Uldum, Deepholm and Twilight Highlands was amazing. The progression throughout Hyjal and Titan lore in Uldum were my two highlights.

Final Thoughts

You may be wondering why no mention of Pandaria and Draenor… I moved away from WoW during the Pandaria era, so I missed a lot of what happened there, and I really haven’t played all that much during Draenor. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of cool stuff in Warlords of Draenor, but I don’t know that I’d really call stuff from the past year ‘memories’ quite yet – they’re just too recent. In a few years, I will likely have some fond memories of Draenor, but for the moment they’re simply too fresh that it’s hard to really value them.

For the moment, I must recall a final memory. There was a time when there was an NPC who was so beloved among alliance players that a song was made in his honour when he left us all.

Like we all bade a fond farewell to Captain Placeholder and thanked him for his hard work and the good memories… it may time for me to bid that same farewell to the World of Warcraft. Thank you Blizzard for all your hard work on this game over the years, and thank you so much for so many good memories and lessons from this game.

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