Yes, it finally happened.
After being away for the lion’s share of a year — by far my longest break to date — I have finally reactivated my subscription for World of Warcraft. I’ve always had a tempestuous relationship with this game, and the last year or two has seen me spend more time than ever on the “hate” side of the love/hate divide, but there are still things that keep me coming back.
I thought I’d try to be positive for once and list off some of the key reasons I keep slinking back, despite all my bellyaching. This probably isn’t a definitive list, but it’s the big things that stood out for me during this particular return.
You will never run out of things to do. Ever
To say WoW is a big game would be a bit like saying the sun is kind of warm. WoW is staggeringly, overwhelming enormous, to the point where it’s nearly impossible to ever find yourself with nothing to do.
WoW has been running for nearly ten years now, and its development is based on a “quantity over quality” philosophy. That can have its downsides, but it does equal a game overflowing with pretty much every kind of content under the sun. Even if you hate 50% of everything in WoW, the remaining half will still offer thousands of hours of gameplay.
Every MMO can keep you busy almost indefinitely if you delve deeply into every single thing it offers, but most people won’t find every style of play appealing — dungeon heroes may not be into PvP or grinding out quests, for instance. WoW is unique because it can keep you occupied pretty much forever even if you ignore large sections of it.
I’ve never done a pet battle, I have no interest in raiding outside of LFR, and I can only handle PvP in very small doses, but I can find no end of entertainment in leveling alts, running dungeons and scenarios, soloing old raids, or exploring for the Hell of it.
Accessible group content
MMOs are social games. Group content will always be their heart and soul. Despite that, I’m shocked by how little effort many games put into making group content easy to get into.
For all my love for The Secret World, for all that it is very nearly my perfect MMO, it really falls flat in this area. Not having an automated group finder in this day and age is downright embarrassing, and trying to find groups is like pulling teeth.
To make matters worse, there are no significant rewards for repeating any dungeons below the nightmare level, so while there are technically three difficulty settings for TSW’s dungeons, in practice you’re out of luck if you don’t want OMGWTFBBQ hard content where everything one-shots you.
WoW used to struggle in this regard, too, but after several years, they’ve reached a point where pretty much all group content is easily accessible. The dungeon and raid finders ensure all group content can be played by anyone, regardless of group role, in-game social connections (or lack thereof), play schedule, or any other issues.
Even those with strong guilds and many in-game friends can benefit from conveniences like these. If your regular tank is sick, you don’t need to spend an hour begging in Trade chat before commencing your guild dungeon runs.
WoW also offers a wide variety of difficulty levels for its group content, all with compelling rewards, so pretty much everyone can experience it at a level they feel comfortable with. I am a bit worried that the “compelling rewards” part is being stripped away in Warlords of Draenor… but that’s an issue for another day.
I may be mainly a soloist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also enjoy group content. While I’m lukewarm on the social aspect, group content adds another dynamic to combat and opens up new roles and play styles. You can’t be a healer or a tank while soloing.
If there’s one thing I miss about WoW when I’m playing TSW, it’s being able to jump into a dungeon whenever I want. I put a lot of effort into building healing and tanking sets for my characters, but I almost never get to put them to use because I don’t want to spend forever waiting for a group only to wipe two dozen times on nightmare Machine Tyrant.
There are two sides to this.
One is the fictional history built around the world of Azeroth. As you all know by now, I’m a big lore nerd, and I love the sheer depth and breadth of Warcraft’s history.
Something that greatly appeals to me is when a fictional universe grows to the point where it’s not just a setting for one story, but a living, breathing tapestry of history and culture. I’m willing to overlook a lot of story-telling faults for a franchise that can provide me with that level of depth. Hence why I got so into Star Trek, despite my many issues with it.
The story of Warcraft is much like the content. There’s just so much of it that you’re bound to find something to appreciate in the whole vast web. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you can’t find something to appreciate in WoW lore, you’re just not looking hard enough.
So I may not like some of Blizzard’s stumbles — like what they did to Illidan and Kael’thas, or the direction of WoD’s plot — but I can look past those things to focus on how awesome the Lich King’s story was, or how creepy the Old Gods are, or how deep Varian is as a character.
The other side is my personal history with the game.
I’ve played WoW for a very long time. About five or six years now — I believe I joined around the time Secrets of Ulduar launched. Now, to people who started playing when the game was first released, or even in Burning Crusade, I’m still an unwelcome Johnny-come-lately, but in real world terms, that’s an insanely long time to be playing a single game.
After so long, it’s hard to leave a game behind. It becomes part of your life. It may disappoint you, you may spend all your time looking back on the “good old days” with rose-coloured glasses, but you just keep rolling with it. Good and bad, whatever comes.
A few days ago, I went to Northshire on my rogue. My mind flashed back to the day I created her, all those years ago, and I was just overwhelmed by memories of how far that character has come and all the things she’s done.
It’s very strange to think of, and a little amazing.
Of course, part of me wonders if I’m just describing Stockholm Syndrome here.
On another note…
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly state that my colleague over at WoW Misadventures is a fairly nice person. She took the time to make a bunch of level one alts on my servers to help me manage my one-man guilds. All my alts are now invited to the Horde guild, and I was also able to start up a personal guild on the Alliance side: <Beware the Thriceborn>.
Seriously, the guild invite spam in that game is out of control now. I must have gotten a dozen different unsolicited invites across all my unguilded characters just in the first day. Madness, I tell you!
Also, one advantage of starting your own guild is that you can design the tabard to match your transmog set.