Editorial: Does World of Warcraft still have the magic?

There’s no shortage of people who will happily take the time out to reminisce on the golden days of World of Warcraft, myself among them. It’s been a long journey, though mine hasn’t been nearly as rigorous as some. Throughout the years since the game’s release I’ve taken my share of breaks, and I never quite committed myself as thoroughly as some of my circle of real-life friends who played or the friends I made in-game. I would always reach a point where I stopped to do a mental inventory of my priorities and realize I was making the game too important. This would usually follow by an abrupt freeze on my subscription and a long break from the game.

The release of an expansion was always the catalyst for my return, upon which I would grind to the new level cap and start raiding and participating in PVP. However, within a matter of months I would do my inventory thing again and drop the game like a soiled baby, rinse, wash and repeat with every expansion. There might be a month in between expansion releases where I would re-subscribe again in an effort to satisfy my itch to play, but I wouldn’t stay hooked for very long.

[singlepic id=9491 w=320 h=240 float=left]They say when you do a serious drug, heroine or crystal meth for instance, any subsequent use of the drug after the initial bout is simply chasing the high you felt the first time. You never get it back, but damned if you don’t try to rekindle the flame. WoW is similar in that regard, at least for me. I occasionally lament over the days when WoW was this new magical world that I could lose myself in, it was like visiting Disneyland for the first time, nearly every time I logged in. Blizzard created a cohesive world almost unrivaled in any other medium of entertainment and millions of gamers flocked to it. To me it was the zenith of video games as a form art.

The game’s draw has steadily waned over the years for many reasons. For one, the game is huge now. Well, it was huge before, but not to this extent. Pre-expansions, the world felt expansive yet familiar. On the course of leveling to 60 you spent a fair amount of time in most of the game’s zones and got to know them on a personal level. You got familiarized with their landmarks, their characters, their mobs, and so on. I never felt that same sense of place in the expansions.

There’s also the fact that the fundamental experience itself, despite Blizzard’s improvement and streamlining of questing, raiding, PVP, and otherwise, has not changed a whole hell of a lot. Mechanically the game has not changed a lot and in particular the combat hasn’t evolved over the years. At the same time newer MMOs have introduced many innovations that make WoW feel antiquated.[singlepic id=9490 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Despite the game’s aged state, after playing Mists of Pandaria for a week now and treading through the old world again as a Pandaren Monk, I’ve realized that the original continents of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingsoms still retain much of the magic and mystique I felt back in the day – even with the Cataclysm changes. This does not speak to the new high level content which I experienced a bit of with my Draenei Priest before deciding to roll a fresh Pandaren.

The starting zone for the Pandaren has become one of my favorite starting zones and is heads and shoulders above the Goblin and Worgen zones in terms of creative art direction and interesting quest lines. The Eastern style architecture and music forms a very unique atmosphere unlike any other zone in the game, but I suppose that’s not surprising for a zone that takes place on a giant turtle’s back.

[singlepic id=9489 w=320 h=240 float=left]After finishing all the quests in the Pandaren starting zone I was flown to Stormwind where I made the familiar trek to Iron Forge using the underground tram from Old Town. I could have jumped right into Westfall, but I had my heart set on Loch Modan – a simple zone but one I’ve always been fond of. The run from Ironforge to Loch Modan brought back a lot of memories, the snow covered terrain densely covered with tall pine trees still evokes a sense of awe and wonder as I marvel at the gorgeous imagery the artists at Blizzard manifested all those years ago. It was in this moment that I realized the magic still existed, whether you’re a new arrival or a veteran of the game.

The lower level zones may not be teeming with life as it used to since most players are busy grinding through higher levels, but with a few friends or even alone a grandiose adventure still awaits new explorers. The world maintains its charm and the satisfaction of leveling your character is ever present and just as addicting. Also as I mentioned, Blizzard has made some important improvements to the game making it so that finding a group for nearly any dungeon is an easy task. Remember the days of having to spam for groups in Capital cities? Those are long gone since you can use the Dungeon Finder tool to find teammates not only in your own server but across other servers as well. There’s also the most recent content patch which completely revamped the skill and talent system, so even if you decide to roll a class you’ve experienced before it feels like a fresh experience.[singlepic id=9488 w=320 h=240 float=right]

World of Warcraft may be long on the tooth for many players who joined the game early on,  it may not possess some of the innovations that newer MMOs have since introduced to the genre, but it’s still one of the most beautiful and engaging virtual worlds available. I’ve played many of the new top shelf MMOs that have been released over the years and if I had to recommend an MMO to a new player today,it would most certainly still be World of Warcraft.

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