Opinion, WoW

In faint praise of Archaeology

In the post-launch rush a lot of folks I knew were putting in serious grind time on Cataclym’s new Archaeology profession, some excited about the oooh new shiny! and others just aiming for the phat lewtz.  In such a context I found nothing to excite me about the whole affair: I was busy enough levelling up, grinding rep and farming gear from (slightly more) reliable sources and had no patience for a grindlicious RNGfest for gear I wasn’t sure I wanted anyway.  And well, I admit, I was also pretty cynical about the oooh new shiny aspect.  I tend to avoid getting excited about new things because that way the inevitable disappointment is avoided in favour of eventual faintly surprised appreciation.  Or, if it turns out to be a load of rubbish after all, you can smugly play the “I told you so” card!

Call me cynical but hey, this system works folks!  Because now I am faintly and surprisingly beginning to appreciate Archaeology, and thankfully for the word count, not in complex ways with multiple layers of meaning to carefully expound over the coming post.  I basically like Archaeology because it’s something simple and undemanding that gives me an excuse to travel the world and chat to people.

It’s a long time since I spent any significant time in Azeroth or Kalimdor, and long enough since Cataclysm’s launch that even Northrend is beginning to enter nostalgia territory.  It’ll probably also be a long time before I get around to creating new alts to experience all the changed zones and new quests which Cataclysm brought.  So Archaeology is my first real opportunity to just … explore.

Unfortunately I’m not a very good explorer as I tend to be quite goal-focused these days.  Archaeology gives me enough of a goal to keep me wandering happily about the world, taking in the sights and sound, stopping to examine the odd new or different NPC, sometimes marvelling in the new environments and other times just fondly remembering times – often very distant times – spent in the old.  And it gives me a chance to listen to zone music with my full attention.  I actually feel that’s one of the most welcome updates in Cataclysm: a lot of my favourite familiar themes are still there and they’ve been augmented with some wonderful new or remixed tracks which add depth and punctuation to the whole experience of being in a World.

And as well as new or changed areas, music and characters, there’s also merit in the profession itself as it opens up quiet little rabbit trails into the wider context of the game world we’re playing in.  Each item you complete, from the commonest of the common through to the ultra rare, has a paragraph of description, background, or history to change the artifacts from simple vendor trash into subjects of a familiar yet unknown story.  Not generally your standard fantasy MMO epic fare either – simple stories, hints of simple stories, hints of simple people or the reality of life in a world which was never real to begin with.

It’s quite an ambiguous feeling to be this engaged by a virtual world, but analysis aside I’m glad to just have something undemanding and fun to potter about with in-game, especially during my mage’s nervous forays into DPS queues for heroics which so often end in fraught and stressful PUG situations.  Coming to the profession just to see what it offers, without demanding loot or excitement or wealth or clever toys, has been a beautifully simple and enjoyable eye-opener.

I suspect it’s not that great a ‘profession’, really, or even a very good pass-time.  There’s not much by way of tangible reward, after all, and even if you’re not grinding it, it’s still very ‘grindy’.  But perhaps the greatest triumph of archaeology is simply that it’s the proverbial empty vessel into which the player can pour their own experience, yet enriched by the careful attention to small details which can make the World of Warcraft come alive in quietly surprising new ways.

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Discussion

8 thoughts on “In faint praise of Archaeology

  1. I’ve yet to try it out myself as it seems like a huge time sink if done properly, and doesn’t have enough useful rewards to lure me in. The irony there of course is that I’ve been profiling myself as this big explorer guy who doesn’t always need strict goals to keep him entertained in a game, but in this case my goal-oriented playing rises from the depths. I guess the REAL problem is that I just have too much stuff to do at the moment though, and I already spend a lot of time in WoW as it is :P.

    It does seem like my cup of tea and I’ll probably try it at some point. Particularly the item descriptions is something I adore as it really adds story depth to a world which is sometimes a bit lacking in that department. It’s a bit sad though that we now see that kind of thing as an achievement, while some of the great singleplayer RPGs of yore (Baldur’s Gate and its ilk come to mind) had lengthy descriptions and sometimes entire short stories for most items in the game, along with beautiful 2D artwork. It’s something that’s gotten a bit lost in the current culture of instant gratification, super accessible game design. Redding is teh hard, basically.

    (Although you have to understand developers not putting effort into something that probably only a small minority of players ever read.)

    Posted by Razz | February 23, 2011, 1:54 pm
  2. Archaeology did what I never thought possible, it made Fishing more enjoyable.

    It could be made a lot better by ceasing dig sites with which one is finished completely to appear. For example, I have got everything I possibly can out of Fossils, from the blue items to all the grey items, there is nothing left to discover there, yet I look at my map and it’s mostly Fossil sites and I just can’t be bothered to deal with them.

    The wandering and exploration part wears thin far too quickly and turns into an exasperating case of having to fly back and forth to places you’ve been a thousand times already. The dig sites are quite limited really and repetition sets in far too fast. If sites were in more varies locations that might help but they are in pre-defined areas you end up revisiting over and over again. So even the exploration of the world isn’t there as much as one would think.

    Posted by Shockeye | February 23, 2011, 4:43 pm
    • This is the suspicion I’ve had as I’ve levelled my skill higher, but so far (<300) I'm still doing it sporadically enough and with a chilled enough attitude that it's enjoyable. That is, I'm travelling the world, chatting and listening to music (not just zone music) first and doing archaeology second – if that makes sense!

      I definitely think it could be vastly improved, but – so far at least – I’m happy to be enjoying it for what it is. But the moment I start thinking in terms of levelling it up for its own sake, or hoping to get valuable items, it’s just… ugh.

      Posted by Charles | February 23, 2011, 7:38 pm
  3. I think Charles has the right idea. I look at archaeology as something to do in the background of having other fun. Whether I’m reading/responding to blogs while I fly from dig site A to dig site B, or listening to music, or watching TV shows, archaeology’s there to keep my hands busy (no dirty comments, thank you very much).

    I can’t imagine the patience it takes to grind this profession; I’ve never been much of a grinder (I swear these comments aren’t happening intentionally) and I didn’t become one for this profession. That said, I am hovering around 300 on it. It’s not fun, but it’s something to do other than flying around in circles in Org while talking to my friends on vent which frequently ends up being my passtime.

    Posted by Stubborn | February 25, 2011, 12:37 am
  4. That little incentive to explore is what makes me think that I really should look into archaeology, which I haven’t done until now. Even if it appears grindy it doesn’t have to be. It’s about what glasses you wear.

    Posted by Larísa | February 25, 2011, 11:27 am
  5. My relationship to archeology is fickle…very very fickle! :D
    It’s basically passionate love and utter disgust, depending on when/if I get a rare or not – which to be fair, has only happened twice so far. I find it boring and tedious to be honest, but as people said, if you’re standing around in capitals chatting all night, you might as well dig some holes.

    Posted by Syl | February 25, 2011, 2:22 pm
  6. Do you think that any update to the rewards are in the works for 4.1?

    I couldn’t be bothered to level it up but after the great rep grind on the warrior is out of the way, I might just relax into the experience bit by bit.

    Posted by alacranmex | February 25, 2011, 8:29 pm
  7. I use archaeology as a time killer before raids or before going to bed, but lately I’ve decided to make every effort to pick up every herb node I see when I do this. It made my arch digging longer, but now I see some good money because old world herbs sell for a lot on my server.

    Posted by Waipahu | February 27, 2011, 12:29 pm

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