(Ok, first hit play on the above video. This article has a soundtrack.)
In World of Warcraft, Darkshore is the first major city outside of the Night Elf starting area and stands in dark contrast to the mystical and deeply saturated pink realm of Teldrassil. It’s where you discover that the game is full of many people of many races. I’ve spent just over twenty hours in the game over a week, I’m crossing level 17, and it just started raining.
As part of their fifteenth anniversary, Blizzard released the original “vanilla” version of World of Warcraft (“WoW”). This release represents the initial version of the wildly popularly MMO that consumed years of my life. There is a service on the internet that will tell me precisely the number of hours, days, weeks, and years I’ve already spent on WoW, but there is no way I’m going to look because if the total time played isn’t years, it’s undoubtedly months and months.
For me, the act of purchasing and installing Vanilla was a multi-week agonizing process. I’d log into Battle.net, move my mouse cursor over the Subscribe Now button and sit there. Am I ready for this? Do you remember how much time you spent raiding Molten Core? How about Zul’Gurab? Years. Do you need more missing months?
But I had to know. Having played most of the subsequent releases of WoW and watched how the game evolved, I wanted to see if the original spark, the unique hook, was still there. Sure, I was nostalgic, but was the grind going to be worth it?
A Punishing Grind
Everything and I mean everything is a grind in Vanilla WoW whether it’s increasing your base level, your professions, and/or your secondary skills. Nothing comes from free. You must devote significant time to any attribute you want to grow, and that means finding resources and converting them into useful goods that you either use or sell.
I choose leather-working as one of my professions which pairs nicely with my other profession: skinning. Efficient, right? Skin the animals that I kill and turn those skins into useful materials. Sure, except this is Vanilla where drop rates for many items are anemic. Need five bear skins? Ok, go kill 50 or so bears. Where are these bears? Well, there’s a bunch in the north part of Darkshore which is a five-minute walk or I can head south where there are more bear clusters, but that’s more like a ten-minute walk. No fast travel, no mounts, I need to point my Night Elf south and walk down a forest path for ten minutes… in the rain.
Yes, there are other quests to do on my long walk to the bear massacre, but these quests contain the same DNA as the rest of Vanilla. Nothing for free plus an enormous grind. Lengthy collection quests with frustratingly low drop rates. Oh yeah, did I mention that if I leave a level-appropriate area, I’m going to die? The moment I run into an over-leveled baddie, I’m dead. When this happens (and it will), I appear as a ghost at a usually not nearby cemetery where I am required to run back to my corpse where I will likely to die again at the hands (claws, paws, whatever…) of the same vastly overpowered baddie.
How is any of this fun?
Conspicuously Helpful and Painfully Kind
WoW is a profoundly complex puzzle, and puzzles are meant to be solved. My first week of grind in Vanilla was vastly more satisfying than my first week over a decade ago because I intimately know how this puzzle is constructed. I rolled a hunter because I am clear how a hunter works. I’m ranged damage, I need a pet as quickly as possible because my melee attack sucks, and I need to become adept at managing that pet so that I don’t die so I can avoid long ghost walks.
I am space constrained. Bags are worth their weight in gold, but I have no gold. I have bronze coins which with a ton of work will become silver coins which eventually will become gold coins. I’m going to need 100 of these hard to earn gold coins when I hit level 40, so I can purchase a mount and travel efficiently. I’m level 18 now. I have 22 silver and 81 bronze. I am forever away from 100 gold coins.
And then, standing there in the rain in Darkshore, a random Dwarf walks up next to me, opens the trade window, and gives me a bag. For free. No commentary, no requests, just a free bag in the middle of the forest. I bow. He walks off.
Now, I’m standing outside of this cave, and it’s a cave full of quest-necessary mushrooms protected by fish-like creatures named Naga. I remember this cave from years ago because I spent hours of my life ghost walking back to this cave after being swamped by Naga. I did not know what I know now that just about everything is easier with others in WoW. Social connections are encouraged, so the moment I see a friendly player I request to join forces, and they accept. We competently charge into the cave and quickly overpower the Naga.
Oh, right… people are helpful in this game.
When it became clear to me the I was going to play Vanilla, I searched the internet from remnants of my old guild, Liquid Courage because those humans were why I devoted time to this game. A bunch of gaming strangers building a helpful community. The reason the ten-year-old game was so familiar to me was because of those helpful mostly anonymous humans who took the time to explain how it worked, how to optimize my play, and how to work together to solve this punishing grind.
Oh, right… people are helpful in this game. The community is what made this game great. Conspicuously helpful and painfully kind.
Darkshore is a Place… To Me
Liquid Courage is still a guild on Cenarius, one of the many realms on the latest World of Warcraft. I recently logged in quietly to see familiar names there. I found the guild on Facebook, too. Familiar names were now playing with children who were yet born the last time we charged into Zul’Gurab seeking the heart of Hakkar.
When I started playing WoW, there was no rain. It was an effect that was added in a later patch. I do remember the moment I first saw and heard the rain. I wasn’t in Darkshore; I was in the Arathi Highlands – a different continent. I don’t remember if I was level 60, yet, but I remember when it started raining. I was questing with a guild-members. Did we need spiders? Maybe?
It just started raining, and we celebrated the digital rain.