I haven’t played World of Warcraft in ten years, but I’m trying to get back in. There’s a new expansion coming out and Blizzard has made it very easy and convenient for returning players to get back in. It’s exhilarating, foreign, fun, and fraught with drama already. I’ve only been playing two days. I don’t know if I’m going to keep playing. I want to, but I also know what happens when I get a unhealthy WoW habit going.
When World of Warcraft came out in in 2004, it hit me hard. I was 21 years old, finishing up college, and working at a LAN center in Dallas where gamers came to play together on networked computers. I’d grown up playing other massively multiplayer online role playing games like EverQuest and Dark Age of Camelot. Everyone I knew was excited. Blizzard didn’t release bad games and the market was flooded with so many bad and mediocre MMOs that we knew Blizzard would save us.
They did. It’s hard to understate just how much World of Warcraft changed things. Before WoW, MMOs could feel like a punishing experience. It was possible to spend all day grinding in EverQuest then get caught somewhere stupid, die to an enemy much more powerful than you, and lose days of progress. Yes, literal days.
WoW was radical because it didn't assume MMOs need to be punishing to be fun. Coming back to WoW after ten years I can see that Blizzard has taken that maxim and pushed it to its extreme. I left World of Warcraft just after its first expansion— Burning Crusade—released in 2007. At the time, most of my friends were on different servers, as a damage dealing undead rogue it was hard to find a group, and the dungeon queue—a convenient way to find groups introduced after the release of Wrath of the Lich King in 2008—wasn’t in the game. The high level content was dominated by guilds that kept intense schedules and distributed loot based on a complex system of performance in combat and internal guild politics.
I was already playing a lot of WoW and joining one of those guilds seemed too much like taking on a part time job. I quit. I didn’t come back because, by the time I was interested, I didn’t want to spend the cash to purchase the expansions and get back up to speed.
But Blizzard being Blizzard and WoW being WoW, they’ve made it very easy for the curious lapsed WoW player to come back. In the run up to its newest expansion, Blizzard has made all its previous expansions free with a subscription to the game. In addition, pre-buying the new expansion allows me to boost a character to max level to catch up with my friends. I can even test out a level 100 character to get a feel for them before deciding what to boost.
World of Warcraft has improved in a thousand other little ways too. By default, the UI tells me exactly where to go to complete my quests. There’s an elaborate encyclopedia built into the game that shows me the map of dungeons and tells me where all the bosses are. All the servers cross over now, so I can build a group with friends from different servers and do any content we want to. It’s so, so, so easy.
Wandering Azeroth is weird because it’s so familiar yet so different. The game has upgraded its visuals a few times since I’ve played and I can tell where they’ve upgraded models and where they haven’t. The Cataclysm expansion literally changed parts of the game world, so there are areas from when I played that are radically different now. Dungeons such as Ragefire Chasm and Scarlet Monastery came back to me the moment I stepped inside them. Orgrimmar looks better, different, but it’s still the same central Horde city I know and love.
I feel like I’m returning home and that’s dangerous. WoW is notoriously addictive and my friend group has made it easy to come back. My girlfriend, a long time WoW player, gave me 10,000 gold and a full complement of 30 slot bags. Another friend messaged me this afternoon saying he’d been up too late playing WoW. I asked how late. “Five I think. I’m not 100 percent sure [to be honest.] Super groggy.”
Another friend—a notorious WoW addict who’s clean now—noticed I’d logged into WoW to pull a screenshot for this article. “Why are you playing WoW?” He said via text message.
“Because I hate myself,” I said.
“Stop it,” he said.
“I haven’t played in ten years,” I said.
“Good,” he replied. “Keep it up.” Then, after a few more messages back and forth, he was helping me figure out if I should boost my death knight to max level or boost something else, while I kept the death knight as an alt to see the old content. Just like that, he was back in the game too. It was that easy.