Whatever it was that possessed me to resubscribe to World of Warcraft for a month didn’t stick around very long. Apparently the evil spirits had better things to do. After 16 months of radio silence I coughed up the $14.99 required to play past level 20 and even went so far as to activate the ten-day trial for Warlords of Draenor. Somewhere in the back offices of Blizzard’s billing department my account is being used in a PowerPoint presentation for new hires as an example of why you always, always quietly file away a formal letter requesting deletion of one’s Battle.net account and let it sit. It’s this kind of dogged persistence that makes for successful money collectors, I suppose, with the caveat that anyone with scruples will go to the trouble of verifying that the person in question is actually attached to the account.
Given that I am indeed the owner of an account which remains undeleted, I have nobody to blame but myself. They had waited patiently and it had paid off for them. I wish I could say the same for myself when it came to whatever bizarre rationale I had come up with for briefly venturing back to my old stomping grounds in Eversong Woods. “You can never go back there again,” says Billy Joel. Somehow I thought I could go back to Captain Jack’s special island without the captain. I had this pie-in-the-sky notion that I could perhaps recreate some of the glory days of the past in which I stabbed with all my might and healed my little skirt off. I fancied it an “experiment” but not really – I knew in advance what the outcome would be, just not the way in which it would play out. This is what I was interested in.
My plan was to acquire all of the heirlooms – all of them, even the ones I wasn’t going to use – and equip them prior to engaging in battlegrounds and dungeons at varying levels, most of them on the lower end of the 1-100 spectrum. Now that you can simply buy everything with gold, I came up with a fiendish pay-to-win plan that would have purists agitatedly cleaning their monocles while peering disapprovingly at their screens from beneath the forehead-hugging brims of their top hats: I would buy WoW tokens, sell them for gold on the auction house, and then buy out the heirloom vendor.
It worked. It took two WoW tokens to get enough gold to buy all 68 of the heirlooms accessible to my character. My two level 90 characters, my Paladin and my Rogue, were still in the guild they had been in when I quit the game sixteen months ago. Given that they call themselves <AFK Again>, I must say that they have absolutely lived up to their name. My Rogue had somehow achieved Honored reputation with them and the collected members, most of whom appeared to no longer exist (or were, as I was, AFK again), had leveled all of the professions up to the maximum level, thus qualifying me for access to all of the presents in the guild vendor’s velvet sack of goodies including the necklaces. Everything else was found on a vendor in the Undercity who also carried items that would allow you to increase the maximum functional level of the heirlooms from 60 to 90. I had a Discipline Priest at level 57 and a level 20 Destruction Warlock whom I had long favored, so I decided to use up the remaining 10,000 or so gold that I had to pay the “graduation fees” for my intellect heirlooms.
I started off my adventures by leveling up another Paladin and Rogue to 10 and immediately queueing for battlegrounds. The Paladin was a wash: I couldn’t kill anything and the dominant classes would simply crush me. On my Rogue, I fared a little better but only in team fights. I simply couldn’t overpower most classes fast enough to keep up with their teammates or their heals. There just aren’t enough tools at lower levels to provide a satisfying level of complexity or depth, so I suppose my backup plan of PvPing on my starter account once the subscription runs out would only be fun if I were to play as a Discipline Priest, which can outheal everything ever, or as a Feral Druid whose signature low-level ability is to cause their target to suddenly be staring at the “Release Spirit” dialog box.
I moved on to my level 20 Hunter whom I took through a dungeon or two to refresh myself before heading out into battlegrounds. The rotation was simplistic and indeed my WeakAuras set up was still functional, so I had only to press the button displayed on the screen to optimize my damage output. Pathetic, I know, but it’s an experiment, you see. I then hopped into battlegrounds and turned in a middling performance. I could kite well enough to not die for a reasonably long period of time, but it was a crapshoot as to whether I could pump enough damage into an enemy player to bring them down before anyone who knew where their healing buttons were showed up.
I went up the levels yet again. I didn’t feel like playing my level 90 characters based on the presumption that the cool gear they were rocking at the end of Mists of Pandaria would be replaced by a godawful hodgepodge of quest green football helmets and wrestling championship belts, so I switched over to my level 57 Priest. A few dungeon runs saw most of the auction house greens in the non-heirloom equipment slots replaced with blue-quality items. Off into the battlegrounds I went, where I was focused relentlessly but had my day in the sun: it was my turn to spam self-heals while laughing maniacally and not dying, mostly, except when I was tanking half the team (or a really persistent Feral Druid) and half of my team was facetanking the floor. Of all of the classes, my Discipline Priest with roots in Wrath of the Lich King is the only one with whom I still have a mechanical, tactile, deeply vested connection. My torrid romance with my tanking Paladin was an entirely egoic affair; having revisited some of the PvE content I can’t say that I’d want to tank any of it. I suppose the one redeeming quality it has going for it is that the health bar whittling is not as overtly laborious as Final Fantasy 14’s.
I digress. I rather enjoyed the mid-level range of skills I had available to me. Prayer of Mending and Power Infusion were absent at that level, which was disappointing, but most of the old standbys were there: Power Word: Shield, Prayer of Healing, Pain Suppression, Flash Heal, and Psychic Scream. My bars weren’t even half full, though, a product of the great Skill Pruning. Back when earning the ability to use flying mounts required you to feather your own wings and fly to the moon in the middle of a full-on space blizzard, I had 4-5 hotbars filled with skills that would see usage on a regular basis. Only a very few, such as Mind Sear used on a friendly player to flush out enemy Rogues when Arcane Torrent was on cooldown, were ever neglected to any worrisome degree (I might forget how to use them!).
It took about three or four days of heavy play to realize that I didn’t give a whit about much of anything except PvP healing and that I wasn’t interested in putting in the time to non-instantly level to 90 or 100. I also wasn’t interested in buying WoD even at 40% off, nor would I do the state-sponsored WoW token currency swap again to upgrade heirlooms from 90 to 100. Simply put, there’s a very, very small part of the game that I’m interested in, in passing, and that’s not enough to get any more time or money out of me. While I do appreciate the spammy, whack-a-mole dungeon vibe, the entire experience reeks of the acrid odor of burning plastic: it’s quick and dirty, tunnel vision fun that leaves me feeling icky afterwards. Upon reflection, I was always only ever interested in the quick and dirty combat game; the levels and equipment were part of the package that everyone just assumed came along for the ride. One’s rite of passage, if you will. I suckered myself into paying to accelerate a leveling process which, at this point in MMO development, might as well be described as a manufactured inconvenience.
Well, no more. There are good games out there that shirk this convention. The recent Steam fire sale saw me purchase and start playing The Secret World. I’m a couple years late to the party, but so what? It’s ooky-spooky story time with no levels or classes. I need to infuse more of that in my life and dial back on the job demands (like in FF14, literally job demands, except that game’s really good albeit on rails to the Nth degree). I’ll let you know how my bespectacled katana-wielding assault rifle-sporting student fares in the zombie apocalypse.