Monday, November 10, 2014

WoD Launch Day - Revel in the Chaos!


World of Warcraft's next expansion, Warlords of Draenor, launches in four days. It's a fantastic time to be playing the game right now, and it's clear the developers have doubled down on this expansion, and are working as hard if not harder than ever to bring new life to this venerable franchise. Launch day can be an extraordinarily chaotic time in any game - whether it be for the initial launch of the game, or for a much anticipated expansion. And many players will absolutely bemoan the chaos that ensues. Spawn areas will be camped and crowded, servers will be up and down, there may even be queues to log in. Quests will break, players will lag, and instances will lock that shouldn't be locking. Yes, for many people, it will be for them the worst experience ever, and if you read the forums during this time, nothing less than the sky has split open and the ground has trembled and hell in Azeroth has descended upon them.  But for me - well for me, I absolutely love this time. I find the chaos magnificent, and there no better time for an MMO.

Cataclysm Launch - A few of us waiting
on the stroke of midnight to get our
flight license.
Embrace the Carnage
Because amid the broken quests and overly camped spawns, there is also an extraordinarily huge amount of excitement. Players are generally thrilled to be there. And we run, as a mass, from quest point to quest point, there is a sense of shared experience, a frontier feeling, of being among the first in these new lands. Yes of course Beta players have been here before, but that was in preparation. Even the beta players know that now it's for real, and that feeling lends a sense of urgency and excitement to every quest turned in, every new mob slain.

So with Warlords only a few days away, and the excitement among the playerbase reaching palpable levels, it seemed to me it might be fun to look back, at the launch days of expansions past. Were you there? Did you participate in the revelry?

My Burning Crusade Hunter - Complete
with Jane Fonda hairstyle
Burning Crusade
Back in 2007, we still bought our expansions by the box, in stores. WoW had already been out for three years when the first expansion was released. My son was 11 years old, and so at midnight, he was in bed, and I stood in line outside our local Gamestop, and bought two copies.  I had to physically install the expansion, like a barbarian (how far we've come since then), and only then was I able to log in and play. And though I mostly played Alliance in those days, my friends and I all had decided to roll Blood Elves, and we all started fresh brand new characters, and began leveling them together.  I still recall fondly the throngs of people roving over Eversong Forest, and then the Ghostlands.  For a few brief years, Silvermoon City was actually crowded with people, and Shattrath became the game's cultural and population hub. Today those zones are quiet and empty, shells of their former selves. As you travel through them, you will most likely have only the NPC's themselves for company, and they wonder where the player's have all gone.

Arriving at Valiance Keep for the first
time - Wrath of the Lich King
Wrath of the Lich King
It was just shy of two years later that Wrath of the Lich King was released. We still bought our expansions in boxes, but now my son was a bit older, and we waited in line together, at midnight, again at Gamestop. Once installed, we grabbed that odd looking boat that had appeared in Stormwind Harbor, and sailed to the new land, joining the Alliance's fight on the beachhead of Northrend. The corpses of the bat creatures lay in giant piles along the beach, as players dropped them by the dozens. The giant undead beatle tank-bugs pulled directly from Starship Troopers didn't stand a chance against the player onslaught, and the farming town north of  Valiance Keep wasn't being overrun by scourge, because there wasn't a scourge alive left to find.

Cataclysm Launch - the Elementals didn't
stand a chance
Cataclysm
By 2010, I was working on my own, trying to start my own game company, and my son was in High School. We had long stopped buying expansions in physical boxes, and by launch night the game was already prepatched and ready to go. The Cataclysm launch still holds one of my most favorite moments in MMO history. As the appointed hour drew close, hundreds of people crowded around the flight trainer in Stormwind. So many you could not even see her among the throng. And at the stroke of midnight, hundreds upon hundreds of players purchased their flight license, and took to the skies for the first time in the Eastern Kingdoms.  The sight of the skies over Stormwind being filled with players rising from the ground upon every flying mount imaginable is one I will not ever forget.  Remember the flight from Moonglade to Hyjal, upon the green dragon? There was a solid line of green dragons flying past Deathwing and Ragnaros, like a parade. And when you arrived in Hyjal, poor Yseris was beset by hundreds upon hundreds of players, all vying for her favor.  The elemental bodies stacked across the forest as far as one could see. It was amazing.

Mists of Pandaria - the launch I let go by
Mists of Pandaria
When Mists launched, I was very much at a non-WoW time of my life. Heavy into Guild Wars 2, and other pursuits, and mostly trying to get my own game finished and launched, it was the only expansion launch I was not present for. In retrospect, I am truly sorry I missed that launch, because I can only imagine what the Alliance storming of Dawn's Blossom must have been like when it was in full swing.

And Today
And here we are. I'm back in World of Warcraft, and I can't recall an expansion I've anticipated more. Though I feel I am quite ready, I've intentionally avoided as much of the beta content and guides as I could. I know that there will be hundreds of players on my server alone that have already optimzed their path down to the minute, and will have fully functional multi-building garrisons before the first day is complete. None of that for me. I have taken the day off, and I plan to ride through every moment, read every line of quest text, watch every cinematic to its fullest. After all, who knows when the next event of this magnitude will occur in Azeroth.  Certainly not less than three years!

Launch Day - Embrace the Mayhem!