WoW: All Good Things…?

For the last several years, the thought of my not playing Warcraft — not simply taking breaks, but permanently leaving the game — had never really occurred to me. The Warcraft universe has been an important part of my life since before I learned to read. The thought of that ever changing was simply absurd.

My rogue shows off her fancy new hat in World of WarcraftBut now I’m starting to wonder. Maybe a time might be coming soon where I should move on. I look at the upcoming expansion, and I can’t say I feel the urge to play it. Instead, I’m wondering if it might be better to quit while I’m ahead.

That’s not to say that I’m rage quitting because I hate the direction of Battle for Azeroth. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I do hate the direction of Battle for Azeroth. It’s asinine on every possible level.

But I’ve hated the direction of WoW before. Remember Warlords of Draenor? Yeah. Hating Blizzard’s decisions is old hat to me by now. It’s just part of the experience. If it was simply a matter of hating BfA, there would be no story here.

No, this thought has actually been in my mind since before BfA was announced. Battle for Azeroth has simply accelerated my timetable.

See, I got to thinking — really thinking — about where WoW was going to go in the very long term. As much as it sounds nice in theory to be able to continue enjoying a story you love indefinitely, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. No king rules forever (my son), and no story can maintain quality forever. Eventually, things will get stale.

The Petrified Forest on Argus in World of WarcraftSo I started wondering if it might not be a good idea to let go of WoW at some future date when the story had reached what I felt to be a satisfying end point.

At the time, I was picturing this as something a few years off. But then came Battle for Azeroth, and if rehashing the faction conflict yet again isn’t a red flag that Blizzard is running out of ideas, I don’t know what is.

Fueling the fire is the fact that I have had a pretty good time with Legion. It’s not perfect, and it’s definitely not everything I ever wanted in an expansion, but taken all in all, it’s been a pretty good ride, and as endings go, you could do far worse. For all the mishandling of their story in recent years, the Burning Legion has always been the ultimate threat at the heart of the Warcraft universe. Their defeat seems like a natural end point.

When I embarked on my mad “Mustering of Azeroth” scheme to play every class story, I never intended it as a farewell tour, but it does work brilliantly as such. By the time I finish, I’ll have played every class, every spec, and most of the races. I’ll have seen just about everything the game has to offer and had a grand time doing it.

And really, there isn’t that much left in the story I care about. Most threads have been resolved. Nearly all the big questions have been answered. I’m pretty satisfied with everything at this point.

My warlock shrouded in darkness by the Inky Black Potion in World of WarcraftI mean, N’Zoth is still interesting, but it’s not an arc I have a lot of emotional investment in. He’s too much a behind the scenes player. Similarly, I’ve wanted to see Nyalotha for years, but at this point I doubt it could live up to expectations, especially with the standard TSW set for Lovecraftian weirdness. I don’t think WoW even has the technological ability to make Nyalotha as bizarre and frightening as I’m imagining it.

I like the new Void lore, but again, I don’t feel the strong urge to explore it further. Seems like all our big questions have been answered.

Ultimately, it may come down to Azshara. She’s the one unresolved plot thread I’m still heavily invested in. When the idea of leaving WoW behind first occurred to me, my general thought was to wait for an Azshara expansion and then move on once it was done.

But now we know Azshara will be in Battle for Azeroth, and my future as a WoW player may hinge on how she is handled. If it’s true that she’s been relegated to being merely a first tier filler boss, that may just be the final nail in the coffin. If this is some fakeout where Azshara turns out to be the final boss and BfA is an Azshara expansion in disguise, maybe I’ll play it after all, but then it becomes likely I’ll move on after that.

It’s not as if the gameplay is keeping me around. It’s gotten better over the years, but I still find WoW to be at best adequate as a game. Some of the classes are pretty fun, but they’re held back by overly easy enemies and a fundamentally simplistic and restrictive model of combat.

A statue of Azshara in the Tomb of Sargeras raid in World of WarcraftI am excited by the new allied races, but at the same time, what do I need more alts for? I’ve leveled through the old world so many times, and BfA seems to be returning to an endgame model where alts are largely pointless.

The thing that would most hold me back right now is my attachment to my characters. As I’ve said before, I’ve played my rogue for a really long time now. She’s become a kind of mascot, my go-to online identity. Letting go of her will not be easy.

It’s a shame that WoW is so laser-focused on endgame to the expense of all else. It would be nice if I could just go around repeating stories with my characters indefinitely as I can in TSW, but it just doesn’t work that way. Story quests aren’t repeatable, and I’ll never get groups for endgame dungeons or raids once Legion is done.

If you’ve already done the current content and don’t buy the new expansion, there’s no point to playing at all. At best I could role-play, but that’s never quite been my thing, and I would still have to cope with the new story direction, unless I somehow find a group of RPers who ignore everything after Legion.

The subscription-based business model also contributes to making WoW an all-or-nothing affair. You can just pick it up for half an hour if the mood strikes you. You commit fully, or not at all.

I don’t know what I’m ultimately going to do. I do know myself; I have far too much franchise loyalty for my own good, and Warcraft has always been a part of my life. It’s hard to imagine ever leaving it behind for good.

My rogue on her class mount in World of WarcraftBut I have to say right now I feel as though I’ve gotten all I want out of WoW. I’m content. I don’t need anymore.

And Blizzard should be far more worried by that than by all my burning hatred towards the decisions of Battle for Azeroth.

The Mustering of Azeroth: I Was Lightning Before the Thunder

Another class campaign in the history books: shaman. This makes for 75% of Legion’s class stories finished, as well as at least one class of every armour type at max level (a first in my WoW career).

My Orc shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionStorm, earth, and fire…

The shaman story, to be honest, just isn’t that good. The fundamental concept is flawed.

Your mission is to unite the four Elemental Lords against the Legion. That’s something that seems reasonable at face value — shamans deal with the elements, after all — but is revealed to be powerfully stupid once you examine it.

It does draw some attention to one of the most confusing aspects of Warcraft lore (so confusing even I’m not exactly clear on it): What, if any, is the distinction between the elemental spirits and the elementals?

I have long operated under the assumption they are, in fact, separate. The elemental spirits are shown to be omnipresent and usually (but not always) benevolent, whereas the elementals are mainly imprisoned in the Elemental Planes and usually (but not always) evil.

But the distinction has never been clearly drawn, and WoW often seems to treat the two groups as interchangeable, so it’s all deeply confusing.

The Elemental Lords assembled as part of the shaman campaign in World of Warcraft: LegionIf my assumption is correct, it doesn’t really make sense for the shaman campaign to focus on elementals rather than the spirits, but even if I’m wrong, it still doesn’t make sense, because one thing that’s absolutely certain is that the Elemental Lords are bad news.

The Elemental Lords have historically been servants of the Old Gods, and they all hate mortals. Trying to give them more power is a colossally bad idea. Not that long ago at all, our characters were fighting tooth and nail to depose the Firelord and Windlord, and the shaman campaign asks us to end the chaos in Firelands and Skywall and appoint new ones?

This will not end well.

Heck, even Therazane — usually portrayed as one of the more stable and reasonable Elemental Lords — has some dialogue in the campaign implying the only reason she’s fighting the Legion is that she wants the privilege of destroying Azeroth herself.

And now we’ve unified all of the Elemental Lords into a single, powerful fighting force. And last I checked the protections around the Elemental Planes still haven’t been fixed after Deathwing punched them open, so there’s literally nothing stopping them from invading Azeroth en masse and launching another Cataclysm.

There are a lot of class campaigns that involve doing morally questionable or potentially dangerous things, but I never thought the worst one would be not demon hunter, or death knight, or rogue, or even warlock, but shaman. Gambling with the fate of the world might make sense for the Black Harvest, but shamans are supposed to be bringers of peace and harmony who serve to keep the forces of the world in balance.

My Orc shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionThe Broken Shore leg of the campaign doesn’t do much to help matters, either. It does wrap up a long-hanging loose end from Cataclysm, which I appreciate, but it does so by once again forcing you to work with someone unambiguously evil who will clearly stab you in the back at the first opportunity. You’re forced to play as a gullible idiot.

There’s other problems, too. In terms of the cast of characters, this is a very weak campaign. Half your followers are just faceless elementals we’ve never met before.

Stranger still, Azeroth’s two most famous shaman are almost totally absent from the campaign. Thrall’s disappearance is likely due to Metzen’s real life difficulties, which can’t really be helped (no matter how illogical it is in the context of the game lore), but there’s no reason Aggra couldn’t have played a starring role. Instead, she’s barely there.

With them out of the picture, the focus is on Nobundo, and while I like Nobundo about as much as I ever like Draenei (Broken > regular Draenei), he doesn’t really have the charisma or star power to carry a story like this.

At least Mylra’s still fun.

Gameplay wise, the campaign is also lacking. At one point it even commits the most cardinal sin of MMO quest design: Sending you straight back to the exact same location you just were to kill the exact same mobs you just killed. I couldn’t believe Blizzard would sink to something like that in this day and age.

The shaman order hall in World of Warcraft: LegionAnd I don’t like the class hall. It’s too cold and uninviting. When I picture a shaman hall, I think a cozy spirit lodge with elders sharing wisdom around a bonfire.

One thing I can say is that the shaman campaign does more to illustrate the full extent of the Legion invasion than the rest of the expansion, even if does so mainly by telling rather than showing. It confirms that the invasion is far worse than is reflected in-game.

Also, as lame as the rest of the campaign was, the artifact quest for the Fist of Ra-den is absolutely nerdgasmic from beginning to end.

Even so, though, this is still probably my least favourite campaign so far.

…heed my call!

It’s not all bad, though. While I didn’t like the class’s story, the actual playing a shaman part was a lot of fun.

It’s something of a joyful reunion, really. You see, my shaman is actually one of my oldest WoW characters. He’s only a few weeks younger than my mage and my rogue, and older than most everyone else on my roster.

My shaman in World of Warcraft: LegionHe was always on the backburner, though. A neglected third or fourth alt. And as time went on, I increasingly lost interest, mainly due to frustration with the “whack-a-mole with cooldowns” playstyle of enhancement.

As a result, my shaman was eventually abandoned in late Cataclysm (I think?), having never once reached the current max level.

Enhancement still doesn’t feel great to me, but with tri-spec now a reality, I gave elemental a try, and I love it. The spells are visceral and satisfying to use, and the toolkit feels very well-rounded: one DoT, a spammable filler, a powerful nuke on a short cooldown, a resource-spending instant nuke, a proc. It’s got everything you could want.

In retrospect I probably should have tried elemental a long time ago. It just seemed weird to have an Orc who doesn’t melee, but I’m having so much fun with elemental I don’t really care anymore.

I also continue to play restoration when in group content — being a healer is a crucial part of his backstory, and in my heart I consider that his “main” spec — and it remains very fun. It’s probably my favourite healing spec in Legion.

A close-up of my Orc shaman's face in World of Warcraft: LegionIt’s actually remarkable how little resto has changed over the years. Oh, sure, there are some adjustments that have been made, the loss of Earth Shield being the most notable, but fundamentally it feels about the same as it did back when I first played it back in Wrath. Something comforting about that.

As with elemental, I enjoy how well-rounded restoration feels. It has a little bit of everything and a tool for every situation. Its strength lies in its versatility.

And beyond the raw mechanics, it feels good to finally have my shaman at max level, doing raids and heroics. It feels like the fulfillment of a promise, somehow. I’ve always loved the backstory I came up with for him, and I never stopped regretting abandoning him. Maybe he’ll never be my new main, but I’m glad he got to have his moment in the sun.