Originally, I told myself that it was because of Destiny.
Bungie’s science fiction looter-shooter has a hell of a gameplay loop but a dearth of content. After a hundred or so hours, I’d had my fill of everything outside of the game’s raids - which demanded a more consistent level of connectivity than my home NBN connection was able to offer. Having jumped back into Destiny 2 around the launch of Shadowkeep, I’d completed daily after daily and did my time in the crucible.
I can’t praise the gunplay and snappy mission design of Destiny 2 enough. However, there comes a point where you’ve seen the same levels, dialogue and enemies so much that you inevitably start to disengage with it.
Looking across at the other end of the MMORPG neighbourhood, World of Warcraft started to look like a welcome change of pace. Sure, the moment-to-moment gameplay might be less kinetic but Blizzard’s fantasy MMORPG does have an abundance of places for me to see, dungeons to crawl and quests to experience.
A quick bit of history: I got into playing World of Warcraft with a friend back in primary school and played off-and-on pretty much right up until they released the game’s third major expansion pack. Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, Legion and Battle for Azeroth have come and gone since then but none have done much to tempt me back.
For a long time, it came down to the amount of time involved in catching up. Would I rather sink another hundred hours into levelling up my gnome warlock or would I prefer to play ten 10-hour long indie games in the same period of time? When you sometimes play and review games as part of your job, that equation becomes a whole lot more rigid and difficult to deviate from.
Ultimately though, I feel like the biggest barrier for me was that most of the people I played with during high school had moved on to other games. Stuff like League of Legends, Overwatch, Call of Duty or Apex Legends.
I can’t blame them. When I think about the time I sunk into World of Warcraft back in the day and how much time I have for games now, there’s a definite disparity. When I was a teenager, the sprawl of Azeroth and its seemingly-endless quests were a perfect match for my own abundance of spare time.
Even if the modern incarnation of Blizzard’s MMO is one of the most well-oiled machines in the genre, I was torn on whether I’d really have the kind of spare time necessary to properly commit myself to the grind again.
The truth is that I got back into playing World of Warcraft for all the same reason that I originally played the MMORPG in high school: because I could.
It’s easy to romanticise the amount of time that I had to play back then but the reality is that that time was subject to all sorts of restrictions. I could only play an hour or so before dinner. I could only stay up so late. I could only spend so many weekends playing with friends before my parents intervened in the hope that I’d get out of the house and be more social.
Coming back to it, I’ve come to realise that World of Warcraft has always been a game that naturally expands to fill the time you have and, with most of 2020's biggest releases delayed, I have plenty of time for it. Having a partner who has never played WoW before and is willing to go on that journey with me doesn't hurt either.
Shadowlands is set to change the structure of World of Warcraft in a pretty big way through the so-called level squish or level crunch.
For as long as World of Warcraft has been around, each new expansion has pushed the level cap in the game that little bit higher. While the game’s endgame began at level 60 when I first started playing, getting to the good stuff nowadays requires you to churn through a hefty 120 levels. As if just playing World of Warcraft wasn’t enough of a time sink, the time investment necessary to reach the latest expansion has grown enormously over time.
Blizzard have previously looked to address this through zone-scaling, reducing the XP necessary to level and offering level boosts with new expansion packs - letting you jump right to the most recent content. Now, the developer are looking to further tighten up that experience by winding the level cap in the game back down to 60.
The idea here is that new players will experience the war campaign of the most-recent Battle for Azeroth expansion for the first 50 levels and then move onto Shadowlands for the 10 levels after that. Rather than see how Blizzard’s approach to designing quests, zones and mechanics has changed over time, you’ll just get right to the best content they’ve got in the game right now.
Alternatively, veteran players will be able to pick and choose which of the WoW’s many expansion campaigns they want to play through whenever they create a new character - which should help make the experience of leveling a new character a little less repetitive.
Overall, I think this is a really cool move that makes WoW much easier to recommend getting into in 2020. Of course, it’s also a radical realignment of the World of Warcraft experience that I’ve always known.
That long climb to level 120? It won’t exist anymore. On paper, that’s an electrifying evolution that’ll probably make WoW much more friendly to new players. However, in reality, it kinda makes me sad.
As someone with a lot of history attached to this franchise and this game, the romance of that singular and sustained journey through Azeroth falling to the wayside inspires a sort of melancholy. The gameplay itself might be somewhat shallow and repetitive but the biggest thing that WoW has always had going for it was the sense of place and scale it created.
The dozens of different zones in the game might pull from different aesthetics and inspirations but their uniting quality is that they feel like distinct environments. The distance between Azeroth’s digital nations feels all too real and, taken together, you’re left with something akin to a sense of worldliness.
The World of Warcraft that I’ve always known is ending and I want to climb to the top of the mountain one more time before the apocalypse.