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I Returned to Azeroth and All I Was This Soul-Reaping Scythe

As I alluded to elseweb, ESO became unfun.

To be precise, with the rollout of the Dark Brotherhood expansion the combat design team basically decided to double down on the “party roles? who needs ’em!” design strategy. While some people may think “wow, cool, they’re trying to break up the holy trinity of tank/heals/dps, how innovative,” the upshot in actual play was that being a build that was focused on anything BUT DPS pretty much sucked, because every fight was a dps race. I was grumbly because I never got to heal, Matt was VERY GRUMBLY because tanks were basically irrelevant, and rather than continue to piss uphill, he decided to disengage. I continued to play for a while, but ultimately it’s not as much fun without him. (Though I do miss my awesome ESO guildies).

We both puttered around with non-MMO games for a while. I built and played around a bit with my Giant Modded Skyrim game, and spent a bunch of time with Sunless Sea. Matt sampled Beyond Earth and Stellaris.

But at the end of the day, we like playing together and with a team, and MMOs are really the only games that allow us to do that.

This past month, Legion, the newest expansion to World of Warcraft, came out. I’d been hearing a lot of good things from my friends who still play. In particular, my pal who works at Blizzard, Skye, made the comment that they had done some really innovative things and that now was a better time to come back than ever.

As some of you will recall, I played WoW in YESTERYEAR — basically from release in 2004 until Wrath of the Lich King, in 2009. I’ve, at times, had some horrid experiences; I left in 2009 because of harassment in a raiding guild I was in.

I’ve also had a lot of fun and good memories — usually my real-life friends are involved in those stories.

At one point I was sure I’d never play again, largely because I wasn’t convinced I could control how much I played. It was no exaggeration to say I was addicted at one point in time.

Of course, in the intervening years I’ve played SWTOR and ESO, two other MMOs which have many of the same addictive aspects, and managed to maintain the veneer of a responsible adult šŸ™‚ I even went back to WoW for a period of time during Mists of Pandaria (2013?), for about a month or so, before getting bored again leveling through Cataclysm content. Combined, this led me to believe I could play responsibly again. So when I suggested, “maybe we should go back to WoW,” I wasn’t half-joking.

When I started playing, I opted to transfer my old main, gnome warlock Silbuns, from Aegwynn (a PvP server, where we had moved during our 2013 stint) to Duskwood, following Mel and Will, who are probably some of my most hardcore WoW fanatic friends. Matt followed suit, copying over Marrais, his old paladin.

When last we left them, Sil and Marrais were level 82 and stuck in Deepholm, one of the Cataclysm zones. I needed to pick up from there, and learn to play an Affliction lock again.

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I probably looked something like this

My god, the game has changed. I mean, I thought it had changed when I played briefly in Pandaria. Transmog, pet battles, new races, the new starting zones… those were all new to me at the time. I didn’t even play long enough to get used to them! Now there are garrisons, even faster flying mounts, a new class, yet another stat retooling, and TWO DALARANS to worry about.

(I mean, one Dalaran was already excessive, unless you really liked mages and sharp cheese).

So I started small. Very small, with a level 1 dwarf shaman (dwarves can be shamans now! hooray!) named Terbodhna (thanks, random name generator!) Matt made a dwarf monk to go with. Together we tooled around the Eastern Kingdoms together — right now we’re in the mid-40s and in EPL.

But eventually I had to go back to Silbuns. I started by taking everything off his ability bars and just putting it back on again, basically in the order I would have received those abilities if I were leveling him from 1 as an Affliction lock. When I played in 2013, I still found there to be too many abilities, even given how they had been limited by talent specialization. It seems like they’ve simplified it even further since then. Now I have a hard time even filling my main ability bar with abilities I’ll use frequently.

I played Afflic pretty much up until I hit max level, but decided recently to switch to Destruction, since it seems like Destro is a better spec for endgame content. (And man, is switching specs SO EASY these days — you can pretty much do it anywhere, any time, free of charge). I now can say I’ve got the hang of both specs, although I still fat-finger things occasionally. (Er, or more than occasionally).

Anyway! Here are my ten second reviews of all the expacs I’ve seen along the way (and a slightly longer take on Legion):

Cataclysm (levels 80-85). I only saw Mt. Hyjal and Deepholm before I hit 90 and decided to move on. But overall, I was not impressed. (The stuff Cata did for the lower levels, like the new starting zones, and changed geography? Much more interesting, I think).

The guiding design principle of Cata seemed to be, “Hey, everyone has flying mounts now, let’s make everything THREE DIMENSIONAL.” And… that just breaks my brain. I was constantly lost. Matt, who had done this content days before with his since-deleted draenei pally, was rushing ahead, and I had no idea where to go and what to do and I kept forgetting to pick shit up and now I have to fly over here to floating ship oh no Matt’s veered off to mine for fish, what do ahhhhh. So yes, my dominant impression of Cata is BEING LOST.

Mists of Pandaria (levels 85-90). Mostly just Jade Forest, Valley of the Four Winds, and a teeny bit of Krasarang Wilds. For all that I rolled my eyes at the pandaren starting zone when I played briefly in 2013 (more poop quests, augh), I actually liked the 85-89 zones a lot better. There was just a lot of the… lightheartedness I associate with vanilla WoW, without it falling into being juvenile. I loved the terrible agricultural puns. I loved the ridiculous quests that have you doing things like painting turnips orange, collecting disgusting pond water, and rolling lazy pandaren across a field. Overall it was enjoyable and I was sad to leave.

Warlords of Draenor (levels 90-100). I very much enjoyed the extended adventure that brings you to past-era Draenor, i.e. the setting for Warcraft 1 and 2. I also liked the cinematic aspect of that first extended quest, where you see the legends of Warcraft lore with their names flashing up on the screen.

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My reaction upon seeing Khadgar was, “I was lied to! He has no whiskers at all!”

I like many of the mechanics they added with WoD. I like the “bonus objectives” on the map, that present side quests without cluttering up your quest log. I like the addition of star markers on your map for rare spawns. I like that the difficulty of the rare spawn monsters is actually, you know. Somewhat challenging. (Or at least it was when I was 90-99 — less so at 110, of course).

Most importantly, I loooooooved building, improving, and upgrading a garrison. Even though my travels don’t often take me to Draenor any more, I still check in with it, sending my followers out on missions, collecting resources, picking herbs and mining, and doing seasonal dailies. It appeals a ton to the sim/4X gamer in me.

I really only saw Shadowmoon Valley, Gorgrond, and Talador before it was time to move on to Legion content, but I’m trying to finish up the other zones and get the Draenor Pathfinder achievement to unlock flying in Draenor.

Legion (levels 100-110): I LOVE SO MANY THINGS ABOUT LEGION. They made some smart design decisions here, really iterating on their improvements from WoD.

For example, instead of a garrison, in Legion you have your order hall. This acts a little like a garrison, but isn’t nearly so isolated or self-sufficient. In WoD, you were kind of incentivized to spend 18 months holed up there, and that soured a lot of people on the expansion, I guess?

So, consider order halls the enhanced version of garrisons. You can upgrade them, recruit followers and send them on missions, and improve your artifact there (more on artifacts in a moment), but by no means do you spend all your time there. When you leave your order hall, too, you are in the heart of (new) Dalaran, which is a pretty happening place (and has portals to everywhere else you could possibly want to go).

I really like the stories that go along with the orders, too. Basically each class has a reason why this group of them is working together. For the warlocks, their order is called the Black Harvest, and the warlock campaign starts when you are recruited for this daaaaangerous demonic summoning ritual. It of course goes poorly, and you have to save the day.

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And then somewhere in there a demonic Dobby shows up.

But the best thing about the warlock order hall is this:

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Yep. A big comfy bed, right in the middle of a blasted extradimensional hellscape. Nooope, nobody’s having sex with demons here. Ignore the succubi standing by.

Artifacts are another great thing added by Legion — basically, when you start your class campaign, you get a mission to retrieve a legendary-quality weapon unique to your talent spec. It grants a special power you can use so long as you are wielding it. You can also “upgrade” your weapon with artifact power token you find in your travels around the Broken Isles — which end up mostly being upgrades to your abilities.

Did you miss the talent trees from pre-Cata WoW? Well, now they’re back, only for artifacts.

Since I was affliction-specced when I started Legion, my first artifact was Ulthalesh the Deadwind Harvester, which looks like a typical Grim Reaper-style scythe. It “reaps souls” from every mob you kill, storing up to 12 of them. You then use its special ability to gain a damage buff.

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You know what the most badass thing about Ulthalesh was, though? When you kill an enemy, their ghost sticks around until you consume the soul. The first time this effect happened, I was literally at my garrison picking flowers when a podling popped up. I killed it, like you do, and then couldn’t figure out why a spectral podling was haunting me.

(It can be somewhat annoying, though — i.e. “why is there a giant ghostly dragon keeping me from tracing this rune on the floor?” with a certain quest in Azsuna)

Now that I am Destro specced I have the Sceptor of Sargeras, which has some cool lore behind it (Sargeras being the Big Bad Demon behind Legion), but isn’t nearly so badass as Ulthalesh. Its power is to open a dimensional rift through which demonic energies will assault your target. It does look pretty neat, but is not as viscerally satisfying as BEING HAUNTED BY THE ONES YOU’VE KILLED.

Either way, being a warlock is metal as hell.

And see, that’s the thing. When I first heard about artifacts, I had a moment of, “oh, psh, handing out legendaries to everybody. Everyone’s going to be walking around with them like they’re the sole savior of the world, and it’ll be lame.” But see, it’s not. I know every other warlock has an artifact, and I don’t even care, because I still have a MOTHERFUCKING SCYTHE THAT REAPS SOULS.

(And, thankfully, there are alternate appearances for the artifacts — and you can still transmog it — so at a glance over my order hall, it doesn’t look like every warlock is carrying the same weapon).

In brief, the artifacts are really good at making players feel like their characters are badass — even if they never step foot in a raid. And really, that’s all you want when you run a game aimed at fantasy-loving nerds and based on a monthly subscription, isn’t it?

And the actual leveling content for Legion? Is pretty damn good, too. I especially liked the quests in Azsuna and Suramar, because I do love me some doomed sad elves (the shal’dorei/nightfallen). That said, getting around in those zones is sometimes absolutely miserable; I really did not need to start Suramar with an extended phasing sequence where I couldn’t have my pet pally (i.e. Matt) along, and I’m convinced no one would miss the Oceanus Cove sub-zone of Azsuna if you completely removed it from the game.

I liked Stormheim, too, for many reasons — posh murlock archaelogists, the quest-giver we call Not!Odin, the two goblins pulling a racket on you, and the grappling mini-game among them.

Highmountain and Val’sharah kind of left me cold, though each had their entertaining moments.

Probably the best thing about leveling, though, is the fact that the Broken Isles zones level to you — so you can do the zones in any order you please. More precisely, rather than the content being leveled to your group leader (as it is in ESO), it is leveled to you, individually, regardless of the item level of your gear. How the combat stats work out when you’re a level 104 and your pocket pally is four levels ahead of you, I leave as an exercise to the reader. But it does seem to generally work.

I even did my first dungeons since WotLK — normal Halls of Valor, Violet Hold (like the WotLK version, only with undead instead of dragons!), and Black Rook Hold. I didn’t suck? I think?

When it all gets to be too much? I do pet battles — a mini-game which is about as complex as a 8-bit RPG. Or seasonal stuff (Brewfest and Hallow’s End, so far), which basically haven’t changed since 2009. Or I work on crafting. (I’m a tailor/jewelcrafter, which is a very poor combination).

The advantage of WoW being a very mature game is that there are about a billion minigames you can be doing at any given time.

The things I miss the most from ESO?

I miss being able to travel quickly anywhere in the world by porting to a friend or guildie. It can still take a long time to get some places in WoW if you don’t happen to have the right combination of hearthstones ready. I find it amusing and occasionally infuriating how much easier it is to get from new Dalaran to old Dalaran than it is to get from Stormwind to Ironforge.

I miss dynamic combat. Funny, considering I started this post by bitching about ESO’s combat design. I mean more on a tactical level. I still occasionally find myself double-tapping a movement key to dodge, and let me tell you, it doesn’t work in WoW šŸ™‚ I can’t block, or interrupt, or do any of that stuff without a specific ability to do so. And I miss that.

I miss having infinite bank space for crafting mats! And yes, that was added to ESO right before I left. The reagents bank is a nice addition to WoW since I last played, but it isn’t enough.

And man, do I miss having guild memberships being account-bound, because I hate having to add all my alts individually šŸ™

But hey, occasionally someone in guild is playing Skyrim Special Edition on PS4 while chatting in guild chat, and I can be an ES nerd here, too šŸ˜‰

Oh, speaking of guilds, I am in a guild called Knights of the Night, which is peopled in large part with folks from the RPI LARP crowd — as well as many people I don’t actually know. They are mostly busy with raids and mythic+ dungeons and whatnot, which I hope to someday do, too, but it’s nice to have another way to keep in touch with these folks who I don’t always see.

I could probably natter more, but that’s about the State of Lise Playing WoW Again. Most importantly for me, I seem to be okay putting it aside for periods of time and doing meaningful stuff like TRYING TO FIND THE END OF THIS NOVEL I’M WRITING. (Still no luck).

Executive summary: there’s a lot of new, fun stuff in the game, which is impressive for a game which is now 12 years old. It’s still confusing for me sometimes, but that confusion is also part of its depth.