For quite a while I have held the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft on a bit of a pedestal. That was the last time I was truly and completely devoted to the game, and is the point where I for better or worse thought the game took a sharp detour. It was shortly after the launch of the next expansion Cataclysm that I began this on again off again tourism with the game. So this year when the talk of “Vanilla” servers came up, I thought to myself that I had no desire to ever return to the launch of the game… but Wrath of the Lich King most definitely. It felt like the right mix of progress and promise wrapped up into an extremely playable package with awesome lore events and truly phenomenal raids. Sure there was the shit storm that was the Crusaders Colosseum, but for the time being we are going to forget that was even a thing. Yes I realized that it served a key story arc, but as a raid goes it was thoroughly disappointing after Ulduar. I can also remember really enjoying the questing in Wrath of the Lich King and some of those zones are ones that I still count among my favorite in the game. That was until I recently returned while leveling my Warlock. In part the distinction was made clear after recently leveling both my Rogue and Druid to 100 in the Warlords of Draenor quest content, then dropping down to my level 75 Warlock and attempting to push him up into the Cataclysm zones.
The key problem I noticed was the fact that content rarely synchronized terribly well. In the later expansions, you are allowed to collect a whole series of quests for a specific area and then do a whole bunch of different things there before returning to the quest hub to move to the next area. That simply doesn’t work in practice in Wrath of the Lich King, and I found myself constantly reaching the same point at different times, with the absolute worst of it involving sending me back to the same Harpy filled ravine in Storm Peaks each time after something slightly different. If that was the exception and not the rule life would have been golden, but zone after zone I found myself staggered just enough in my questing to be annoying and greatly drag out the leveling process with a ton of movement from one edge of the zone to the next. This of course was exacerbated by the fact that my Warlock only has slow flight, which makes traversing the bigger areas extremely painful. That said I remember definitely having to do all of these zones before flight, which only would have made them that much worse. I tried doing my stair step approach to the content, and found that not entirely working as intended… namely because there is no hero’s call quest that leads into Icecrown. At 79 I finally decided to pop over and see if I could start the quests, and sure enough I was able to finish up there and ding within fairly short order. The quest sequence inside of Icecrown is probably the best I experienced in my abbreviated push through Northrend.
Evolutions Were Made
So regardless of what I have said about Wrath of the Lich King in the past, I have to admit that significant upgrades have been made to the way we level characters. I mean I knew that The Burning Crusade quests were frustrating and slow, but even then there seemed to be a lot more batching up of related tasks than I experienced during the several zones in Northrend. Ultimately my big complaint with the more recent expansions has not been the leveling content, in fact I think questing through Pandaria and Warlords to be some of the most fun I generally have on a character. Even Cataclysm from what I remember was pretty fun, with the only real problem there being that each zone is an entirely linear experience and if you lose the quest chain somewhere you are simply dead in the water. I am sure as I level with my demons through the Cata zones I will find the same frustrations there that I found with Wrath, just in different ways. The little bit I have played of Legion feels like they have once again made a leap forward in the way the flow of questing feels, and I am sure at some point I will be complaining about all of the past content when I level my next batch of alts. When you spend a good deal of your time playing alts, the way the quests fit together really matters, and in games like Final Fantasy XIV where I don’t have quests to level alternate jobs… I miss it greatly.
We tend to lock things in our mind, that are colored by feelings and emotions that were happening at the time. In many ways the Wrath era had some of the most turmoil in my life in dealing with a job that I hated, and a downward spiral of events brought on by deaths and other traumatic events. However I will always think fondly upon that time because of the stability that my guild and raid team provided me during that time. They were always there and always supportive even when I decided I wanted to stop leading anything. It is because of all of this that Wrath was this shining moment for me in a long list of World of Warcraft experiences. However that sequence of events is nothing I would ever want to relive, and it is impossible to try and piece that era back together. In many ways my fondness for Wrath of the Lich King is no different than a parent trying to relive their own high school sports glory days through forcing their kids to make the same decisions they did. I need to come to the realization that there is no going back, and we can only keep moving forward and adapting to the changes as they happen. I still completely reserve the right to disagree with the direction various games are being taken in, but ultimately my only choice is whether or not I play. I can’t claw back change, and somehow bring things back to a state that I remember so fondly. My recent trip through Northrend has made me realize that even if I could… I wouldn’t actually enjoy the results.