I stood in a familiar yet disorienting scene. The north bank of Dalaran looked the same as always; Blood Elf tellers holding court in ridiculously small booths (i’d always wondered WHERE they stored my items…), vortex-ey guild banks to their left. I turned towards the door. I couldn’t quite place what was odd, but there was definitely something out of place.
As I teleported about 15 feet forward due to the arcane magic of Blink, it hit me before I even materialized on the stairs outside the bank:
Dalaran was a ghost town.
To my left and right, the mailboxes that usually had heroes of all shapes and sizes around them were unused. The well in front of me where some asshat with some raid-achievement flying mount would hover? Asshat-less. The major intersection outside the blacksmith shop? Not a soul in sight. I stood in awe for about a minute until a level 76 something-or-another walked past me. Yes, Dalaran was a ghost town.
These were the first moments I experienced after installing Cataclysm; the already 4.5 million unit selling expansion pack to World of Warcraft. I’d just finished installing the game and logged in nearly two whole days after its’ release, and it was clear the world of Warcraft had migrated back to Azeroth, leaving me alone in the once vibrant hub of the now-forgotten Wrath of the Lich King expansion. The vast majority of players were racing to the level cap in the new zones of the game (heck, some guild friends were already level 85 when I’d logged in) or trying out the new playable races. I felt like I’d been left behind.
In some regards, that was an apt feeling for my World of Warcraft experience. I had done some raiding late in the first expansion, and raided again once Lich King was released. I played week in and week out, banging my head against raid bosses until I couldn’t take it anymore. I’d taken a sanity break from the game for a few months and rejoined with a new look on the game. I didn’t feel like putting in hours a week to raid. I’d become one of the millions of “more casual” players.
Realizing there wasn’t much to be done in Dalaran anymore, I fired off a portal to Orgrimmar — the once and future capital city of the Horde. Expecting to be placed in the usual perch above the mage trainer, I was again disoriented: I was in a dark, purple-hued cavern. Mages and their trainers had been relegated to the “basement” of Orgrimmar in “The Drag”. After realizing this, I began walking around, stumbling to find an exit.
As I blinked forward my requisite 15 or so feet, I came to the outside area of Orgrimmar. And boy, it was not as I remembered: Buildings now three stories tall, and everything seemed to exhibit a scale much larger than before. A tauren on some form of dragon swooshed by my head. Oh, right… you can fly here now. Suddenly the larger scale made more sense; Orgrimmar expanded to allow for air traffic above. I quickly made my way to the flight trainer to purchase the right to fly.
That’s certainly one of the larger draws of Cataclysm for the veteran WoW player. The “old world” of Azeroth now allows high-level players to fly all over it. And fly you needed to: since nearly every single zone in the game is now different, there is a lot to see, and the new Archeology profession takes you all over the new old world. All of this is as compelling as you’d expect, with the master storycrafters at Blizzard displaying great skill in both narrative and the “carrot-on-a-stick” gameplay design.
But I was ready to kill things, so I trained up on the new mage skills and headed out to Mt. Hyjal, one of the new “starting zones” for previously-max level players. And over the next few hours, I saved bunnies, destroyed elementals, and even played through a series of quests based on the classic quarter-munching arcade game Joust (which nets you a small, ostrich-like pet as a reward upon completion, natch). And I can say that the quests are easily some of the best made yet: varied, exciting and epic-feeling.
However, I soon begin to feel that, for all the polish and glitz, this was the same old game I’ve been playing on and off for 6 years. Sure, the formula was improved more than it had been before, but it was the same formula. I picked up a quest that led me to slay some slave handlers and free the slaves that they had in tow. I flew over to the encampment, swooped down and began throwing copious balls of fire at the slavers. And as soon as they would perish, another one or two would pop up in their place, charging at me to avenge their fallen friends.
The scene is familiar to anyone who’s played a role playing game as a cloth wearing magic slinger. When outnumbered, it’s wise to retreat and regroup. Unlike all of that heavy plate armor the warriors are clad in, cloth offers meager protection against being bludgeoned by a crude cudgel. With my health dropping fast, I turned from the slaver and charted my escape.
As I fired off the blink spell, expecting to be 15 feet away from my attackers, I somehow end up in the exact same place as before. Ah, yes… the good old blink bug. Instead of being free and clear, my attacker throws one last blow upside my head and I’m now an undead dead mage.
As I walk back from the spirit healer to find my body, it becomes clear that, like a mage alone in Dalaran, the game has passed me by yet again. I quickly resurrect my mage, activate my hearthstone to get back to a safe place, and log out from the world of Azeroth. I’ll be back in a few weeks, when the urge to play again comes calling.
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