Returning To Azeroth: It’s Just A Phase

A great deal has happened since my introductory travelogue of Azeroth starring Kelidri, a Blood Elf Hunter. In that time, I’ve shifted away from the status of a newly returned player to a Warcraft junkie. I’m at that stage where I cannot get enough of the game. The initial set of game time I purchased has come and gone and already I am half way through another 30 day period. Instead of taking a step back and say, “Well, that was fun,” I lasted about three or four days before purchasing another month’s worth of time. Needless to say, the game’s big, sharp hooks have burrowed deep in me once again. I would have written about my experiences much sooner, but I’ve been too obsessed with playing to write.

My experience was not all sunshine and rainbows, however. Up to a point, Warcraft does a fantastic job of leading the player to the next zone once all major quests in an area have been completed. The progression for Blood Elves levels 1 to about 30 is Quel’thalas, Ghostlands, Lordaeron, and the Arathi Highlands. Quests and major NPCs do a great job of steering players towards new areas. Once I got to the Hinterlands, progression was brought to a dead stop. After performing a few tasks for the local Troll population, I found myself directionless. My activities put me mostly on the eastern side of the area and by the time I was done assaulting a magnificently large troll temple, I was left with no direction. For a game that constantly pushes you forward, being confronted with the sudden terror of “nothing to do, nowhere to go” was surprisingly affecting. I was a adventurer without a quest and a purpose, doomed to a life of obscurity.

Only by consulting outside sources was I directed to the Western and Eastern Plaguelands. I wasn’t all that pleased with having to do more work for the Forsaken, having already done a great deal in Southshore and the Arathi Highlands. I was also losing interest in the whole zombie shtick and sought out greener, healthier pastures in Kalimdor. Long story short, exploring a new continent wasn’t enough to cure my listlessness and after finding Ogrimmar more than a little overwhelming, I shrugged my shoulders and headed back to the Western Plaguelands with my wanderlust severely bruised. To my surprise, I had a total blast in the Plaguelands. Much of that enjoyment was due, in part, to a mechanic called “Phasing.”

Phasing is a handy trick to make various elements, loot, quest objects, NPCs, visible at certain moments. Its use in reshaping the environment and, finally, offering a sincere sense of accomplishment makes the post Cataclysm game far more interesting and dynamic. A big, immersion-breaking problem in Vanilla WoW was its inability to empower the player by their supposedly world changing actions. Individuality and “specialness” is lost when a line of people forms behind you, all waiting to turn in a quest and be referred to as the savior of the world.

Phases solves that problem. In the Western Plaguelands, a number of quests concern the battle for Andorhol between the Forsaken and Alliance. The city streets and surrounding fields are packed with violence as soldiers on both sides wage an unending battle for supremacy. The final quest for Andorhol results in the Forsaken winning the battle and capturing the town. With Phasing, this is something the player actually sees. All Alliance mobs and NPCs are completely removed from that world and will stay that way unless I roll another character. Finally, I can see the fruits of my labor! This same phasing technique is used in Tyr’s Hand, Eastern Plaguelands. What begins as a sanctuary for the zombified remnants of the Scarlet Crusade becomes a perpetual battleground for the Argent Dawn.

Speaking of the Eastern Plaguelands, while my interest in working the area was renewed, much of the enjoyment I experienced came from Fiona, a female worgen merchant, and her two companions Gidwin and Tarenar, two Paladins with aspirations of joining the Argent Dawn, a neutral faction dedicating to fighting the evil Scourge. The story of these two characters is really well thought out and surprisingly heartwarming.

Having not been in a guild for a better part of my time, getting to enjoy the new stories and improved quest designs without distraction has been wonderful. However, there were times I pined to be with a group, mostly to run dungeons and shoot the shit. Instead of quest givers pushing you in the direction of a local dungeon, access to these areas are unlocked as reach pre-determind character levels. Quest givers are then found inside these dungeons, waiting for you to pop in and lend a hand. I’ve only managed to run one dungeon, Shadowfang Keep, but I was so thoroughly overleveled I could do the whole t hing by myself. This wasn’t particularly satisfying, as the reward gear wasn’t nearly as good as my current equipment, but I did collect a few achievements along the way (side note: achievements are an awesome addition to the game). When I finally joined a guild, the group’s silence, save for a single player, was rather disappointing. I left and found another that has been more vocal and active which helps to make some of the more tedious parts of the game a little less lonely.

At the time of this writing, I have moved beyond the Plaguelands and have moved through the Dark Portal and into Outland. The details of my journey are best suited for another post down the line, though I’d like to focus more on the Burning Crusade content as that was where I left off four years ago. Playing World of Warcraft has brought back the obsession I had for the game. Its many quality of life changes went an incredibly long way to make the game less of a slog.

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