It’s no secret that I’ve been somewhat ambivalent about the launch of Cataclysm, despite being of the opinion that it’s a fantastic blend of lovingly-crafted new content, intelligently balanced game mechanic changes and retro-chic cool. I was there, though, at 11pm GMT on Monday evening, ready to welcome in release with some guildies and friends, and chatting and joking through the 40-minute wait to login after the server helpfully advised everyone to please restart WoW and log back in to access the new content.
The first thing I did in a convincing pantomime of strategy and planning, with all my toons in Dalaran for the occasion, was to grab my Flight Master’s License and train all my professions to the new skill cap. Well, most of them – I actually recalled Chayah to Stormwind without training cooking or first aid or fishing OR flying, and then thought “well maybe with the login trouble the server won’t be too busy for a while yet” and went to the dock to check out the boat to Vashj’ir, which was predictably packed so close that any attempts to land a screenshot would’ve resulted in a comprehension-defeating jumble of elbows and horns and shoulderpads and nondescript facial appendages, all mixed up with dragon bits and gryphon bits in a laudably economic attempt to enjoy the advent of old world flying while simultaneously taking a boat to the new questing area.
I sat through the event on the boat, enjoying the addition of voice acting but somewhat frustrated by how close you have to be to the NPCs to hear what they’re saying, especially as they move around so much – um, where was I? – right, on the boat; well, the event was fine and then of course the starting area was wall-to-wall elbows and hoofs and nondescript facial appendages with the occasional furry snout of a freshly race-changed worgen (I guess some people made good use of those 40 minutes of login downtime), and I recalled to Stormwind and logged out.
I didn’t, of course, want to be there, on that boat, with a hundred other people and that uncomfortable blend of sweaty intimacy and clinical abstraction. In the last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time logged in tinkering with my UI, housekeeping on alts and completing the new fishing and cooking dailies on several characters, and the result has been that I’ve re-connected to the whole WoW environment and felt welcomed back into that wonderful sense of camaraderie and nakama that you get from sharing a world and a raid with the right sort of people. I did want to be there on Monday night with those people just because it was sort of nice and fun and we had rented a TeamSpeak server for the occasion and there’s something sort of cool about being with folks for an ‘event’. We ended up doing some instances together to escape the crowds, before I went to bed (far later than I would’ve liked) while a bunch of guildies pulled an all-nighter to race through to 85.
Wherein I ramble about how things are OK
Even when I was totally healthy, I don’t think I could’ve handled a full night and day of levelling through new content packed way beyond capacity with people trying to do the same thing. Even if I could’ve handled it I’d never enjoy it, and I honestly can’t imagine how anyone can. I could rant about this a fair bit but it’s hard to do that because the guys who raced to 85 are good friends and great people and we’ve had this discussion before. Basically what it comes down to is:
- I struggle heroically but futilely to imagine anything I’d like to do less than jostle jowl-to-shoulder with a gajillion other players all obsessed with tagging/grabbing/looting/moving/spawning/despawning/gathering the exact same stuff you’re trying to tag/grab/loot/move/spawn/despawn/gather for millions of XP worth of new content over 12 hours when it’s been a horrible day anyway because Scotland just had the worst snowfall for forty years and I had an exam and the trains were cancelled and anyway why is it that nobody in this country has any clue how to drive on half a centimetre of slush?
- These friends, conversely, enjoy it.
So fair enough, I guess, I’m glad they had a good time and made the most of the event. I’m honestly glad I was able to share some of it with them. And I’m so, so glad that I don’t feel compelled to try and keep up. I’ve been there before and it’s such a horrible feeling, watching all your friends and co-raiders zoom ahead and get to the new cap and do the exciting new instances and farm the exciting new reps and see the exciting new raids and you’re pottering about in Sholazaar Basin killing gorillas for their … giblets? Or maybe that was Stranglethorn Vale. The precise body part isn’t important to my argument.
I think I was once scared that if I got left behind in the levelling process, I’d be left behind in the endgame too, and eventually isolated from the community I’d been through so much with in the previous expansion. Thankfully two expansions worth of experience has taught me that the people I play with are somewhat less inclined to that particular brand of fickleness and asshattery than I subconsciously feared, and in many conversations over the course of Wrath we had the chance to explore and share the value of different approaches to levelling and gearing up and preparing for raids in our little subculture of semi-hardcore casual raiding. Meanwhile the WoW blogosphere has offered an even wider variety of experiences to draw from and learn from.
So, astonishingly, I find myself at peace. I don’t need validation for my slow-ass playstyle and I mercifully feel no Cathcartic need to compare myself to the speedy achievements of my friends. This comes as a huge surprise to me and is, I think, more a credit to my friends and guildies than it is to me personally. Cynwise can sensibly (I resorted to a thesaurus to try to find a stronger word than “sensibly” for the sort of eye-of-the-storm type of Zen I want to imply here but lamentably without success) advise patience, but I know from experience that it’s bloody hard to live out when you log in and guild chat is awash with the giddy and the smug. Thank you, Fancy Hats, for keeping things in perspective and helping to enhance my calm.
Also, an hour after Cataclysm’s launch I discovered something in Northrend I’d never seen before – wonderful creepy banners hanging from the ramparts of Icecrown’s gates with funky rippling coldflame effects running up and down them. Two years of questing and raiding and gathering and I’d never seen these freaking banners before.
Surprised by Zen
I know it’s an odd thing to be happy about but I am just so relieved that I can both enjoy the launch of the brand new fancy awesome content of awesome and relax and take it easy and encounter it at my own pace. I know how utterly rubbish it is to feel compelled to rush through content so you can reach other content and I think that’s at its most rubbish when the content you’re rushing through is new and exciting and populated with small armies of aggravated fellow rushers who’ll be gone by next week anyway, and I’m thrilled to be avoiding that. And bizarrely, I’m happy to know that there are people out there who genuinely enjoy being part of that rush, and for whom the last couple of days have been a special and unique experience which only comes once every few years. (Even if they are freaks.)
As it happens I do have some free time now to start my progress through the new world, but I’m trying to only play when I actually want to and avoid any area which is just too crowded to be fun. I’m also splitting my time between three different level 80s and enjoying reading the quest text and taking the time to smell a few of the roses, where by smell I mean look at and by roses I mean scenery. You might think that having played through the beta it’s all old hat and boring, but quite the opposite actually – so much has changed or developed since beta that it’s fascinating to be able to stand at the end of that process and enjoy witnessing it, and having seen the barebones beginnings of some of these zones and quest chains it’s lovely just sitting back and luxuriating in the fully-polished results. Even if it’s a bit confusing at times. Also, beta is a fundamentally lonely experience and enjoying the content with friends and your familiar old server community adds a whole new level of reward to the process which justifies the MMO part of MMORPG. Even if they are all feckless ninjas out to make your questing experience a living hell.
I jest, I jest.
I was really starting to burn out on WotLK raiding by last summer, so the prospect of another month at least with no raiding is almost drool-inducingly brilliant. (The good kind of drool.) And with so much great new stuff out there and plenty of time to explore it and enjoy it, it’s rarely felt so great to be a WoW player. Sometimes the game throws a lot of stuff at you and you feel “ugh, I need to get through all this new stuff” and you were perhaps quite happy with the old stuff. I felt this way very strongly when Trial of the Crusader was released. But sometimes the timing and nature of the new stuff makes it more like a door being opened from a stuffy house on a sunny morning at the beginning of summer, and you look out over the lawn of possibilities knowing that it may take you all summer to even begin to have all the fun you want to have, see all the people you want to see and finally get the fencing up in the back and the gearbox fixed, but that’s fine because it’s precisely these things which are going to make the summer great.
Looking out over the winter of Cataclysm, I feel like I’m standing on that sunny doorstep enjoying the amount of things waiting on my leisure, and there is no pressure to get them done in a nasty rush. Next door I can see the guys already have their car up on jacks with the tyres off and the engine halfway out, but they’re so obviously having a good time doing it that it actually enhances the feeling of possibility and peace from the long warm days to come.