Several months after its launch, I finally realized that EverQuest II wasn’t the second coming of EverQuest. A great game in its own right, I had actually managed to get a few real life friends involved. Toward the end of my experiences with it, one or two friends had joined me in Ultima Online, and I made new friends who had been big EverQuest fans. With EQII, we all joined under the same banner, but our shared adventures were few and fleeting. Something bigger and bolder loomed on the horizon.
Slowly or immediately and one by one, my friends kept disappearing to this other game, a game I had zero interest in playing. It was called World of Warcraft and no one knew it was about to become synonymous with the MMORPG genre.
I clung to EverQuest II like a life preserver. I desperately wanted it to be everything I had hoped a sequel to EverQuest would be. In some sense, it was, but in too many ways, it wasn’t. As my friends departed, my grip slacked and my hold slipped. Afloat once again in that dark sea between MMORPG worlds, a great current pulled me against my will to Blizzard’s shores. Landing in Durotar, I took the form of a troll on the Maelstrom RP-PVP server, the place many of my friends and friends of friends had already made homes – a place in which I’d make my home for a long, long time.
In the earliest days of World of Warcraft before The Burning Crusade, I maintained my roots. I was a hardcore fan of the genre but not a hardcore player. Similar to my love of science fiction novels, I probably know more book titles and authors than your average reader, but I am far from an expert on the texts themselves or the genre on the whole.
Most of my real life friends were more serious and better established – I was months late to the party. They had joined a bigger guild with a recruitment policy and scheduled raiding. I followed as a casual member, but soon left for a guild more befitting my speed with people playing at the same time or as often as I was. I settled with the <Raging Warlords>, a guild consisting mostly of people twice my age with families, jobs, and other responsibilities. They were like the eye of a hurricane, perfectly calm and devoid of much of the chaos and madness afflicting the wider, far more immature and unreasonable communities of WoW.
While I wanted to maintain my loathing of it for not being EverQuest II, World of Warcraft seemed like a better sequel to the EverQuest that I had loved. It never had the depth of world of either EverQuest or EverQuest II, but it made up for it by being a much smoother gameplay experience with more interesting, distinct classes. EverQuest II had excellent class lore, but the way classes sprung out of various archetypes muddied them all together for much of the gaming’s opening levels. In World of Warcraft, a rogue was a rogue almost from level one, and I think the game benefited greatly from having such an early hook into its gameplay and leveling experience. I know I couldn’t resist it.
World of Warcraft also popularized instances, which made grouping more accessible, even if I missed having open world dungeons. It also retrained my attention onto the holy trinity, which existed in EverQuest, but wasn’t nearly as fine tuned as it was becoming in WoW. It seemed more efficient and straight-forward, while also maintaining a lot of the depth and strategy via threat management, crowd control, and the extensive buffing system.
Finally, I have to credit Battlegrounds as being the first MMORPG PvP I really enjoyed. I had flirted with it somewhat in Ultima Online (mostly guild wars and dueling tournaments) and a bit in Dark Age of Camelot, but Battlegrounds resembled the FPS gametypes that I knew and loved. They felt familiar and more welcoming.
While leveling my main, I did a lot of Battlegrounds on the side. This was before cross-server queuing, so lines to get into a round of Warsong Gulch remained fairly long. On the few occasions I did get into a match, it was almost always against the same Night Elf Druid. We never exchanged words, but our continued skirmishes cemented an intense rivalry that remained for several tiers of BGs before we lost one another forever.
Battlegrounds in general were a mixed-bag. At the time, Maelstrom was a very Alliance-heavy server with a few decent raiding guilds. Most notable of all, The Thundering Legion, were an ever-present entity at the entrances to late game dungeons, raids, and often combatants as pre-made groups in Battlegrounds. You couldn’t escape their overgeared wrath as a Horde, lowbie or otherwise, and I grew to be weary of their vary name. This meant that my gameplay was often interrupted or halted altogether due to their influences, but it also meant that playing World of Warcraft was a dynamic, exciting experience in a living world with its own unique heroes and villains. I loved it but there were days where my love soured into acidic hatred.
My feelings about the game began to change once <Raging Warlords> started doing some lite raiding in Molten Core and Zul’Gurub. We weren’t very good or very organized. You might think it would turn me off from raiding, but the opposite is true: I wanted to do more, see more, and be more. Our repeat failures and shortcomings were fun in their own right – even faltering, as long as you do so with good people, can be fun. But every half-done raid left a lingering taste in my mouth that only made me hungrier.
Worse, the few we did complete were such ‘punching god in the chin moments’ that I was riding the high for days. World of Warcraft wasn’t exactly the sort of game I talked about at school like I had done with Pokemon, Halo, or Morrowind. As I was reaching my latter teenage years, gaming became more compartmentalized as I explored things like having a girlfriend or the freedom to go wherever in my car. Celebrations, water cooler moments, and wistful reminiscing all belonged to the online world of Azeroth, further engrossing a fraction of my being while I was otherwise distracted. I did what most teenagers did and fractured my psyche into convenient, context-specific parts.
Online, with <Raging Warlords>, I had a big family of like-minded gamers. We adventured and fought together. We traded items in-game while we traded stories out of game. My real world self was still in flux, but my avatar was defined and distinct. We were not a collection of winners or top tier players. We didn’t have the best stuff or the best titles. We were acquaintances and with common causes. We were friends.
I played World of Warcraft then as much for the company as I did the game, and that wouldn’t change, though the company soon did.
This month, I’m doing a retrospective series about my life as a gamer to celebrate my 27th birthday. Each post will be written and published in a loosely chronological order. I am calling this series Murf Versus 27.