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.