I’ve talked a bit about Chromie Time in a recent post and shared some excitement over how the structure of the new experience and how it works. I think, however, today, that I have something that might be a bit more interesting to share and discuss.
Over the last two years and change, a lot of my posts have been varying amounts of disappointment over Battle for Azeroth and the state of things in the game. I stress the word “disappointment” because I am actively playing the game, and have been in some capacity for the entirety of the expansion, minus the 3 weeks and change I was out of the country over the course of the expansion. WoW is, for whatever else I might say and feel about the game, sort of my digital “home” in a manner of speaking. Playing the game is something I can do without much thought and it makes it very easy to nest into during times of challenge.
And if you’ve read here long enough, this is probably starting to sound like my old post about finding solace in WoW, and you’re right!
Lately, I’ve been in a general sort of funk. Like many in the era of COVID-19, my life in 2020 has taken some unexpected turns and twists and for the last week and change, I’ve been waiting on a few personal issues to resolve. During this time, I haven’t really had motivation to engage with a game a lot. I really want to play Final Fantasy XIV and farm up some more upgraded Resistance Weapons, I thought about getting back into Cities: Skylines, Planet Coaster, House Flipper, or a myriad of other titles I’ve played on and off this year. I thought about starting Genshin Impact, did so today for about an hour, and kind of peaced out on it. Not because I didn’t want to play, but rather because it feels pointless to engage in my current mental state.
But there is something I have been doing.
I’ve played a surprising, even alarming amount of WoW. Not like, seriously. I leveled my prior-to-patch 110+ alts to 50, each of which took about 60 minutes. I’ve started rotating through Allied Race alts, both factions, just doing different blocks of Chromie Time to see things I haven’t seen a lot of or at all. I’m doing Outland for the first time on a Horde character with my Mag’har Orc. I’m doing Northrend for the first time on my Vulpera Monk. I’ve enjoyed sort of getting lost in the game, absorbed enough by the experience to not be consumed by existential angst, but not so much as to feel like I am distracted, which is good, since one of the key drivers of my funk is waiting on a phone call with an unreliable timeframe.
The whole experience led to me a thought about why it is I like the leveling experience in WoW, mostly. It made me think about what it is about the modern game that still really draws me and can hold me regardless of whatever storms are raging at my door.
WoW is, for the word “war” in the title, actually very peaceful.
Leveling in WoW isn’t really a process that requires you to, for as bad as this will sound, think very much. As a gameplay experience, it is one of the few places in the game that I feel like still offers an effective blank canvas onto which you can paint whatever you’d like. You can pick a timeline, level with gathering, do PvP or PvE, run dungeons, do quests, combine a mix of these activities, or more. The overt simplicity of WoW’s combat on the path to level cap makes playing the game actually kind of soothing, in a way. There’s a set of basic patterns and ideas to follow, and during leveling, talent selection does end up being far more personal and easier to manage.
While I think this is the case for me a lot because I’ve been playing for 15 years, I do also think that the modern game has this as a strength. For whatever negatives one can lay at the feet of the leveling process, the whole of it has a lot of gameplay to offer, with the side effect that very little of the standard questing experience requires you to really deeply engage with the game. It is the digital equivalent of dipping a toe into the pool or wading on a beach. You don’t need to swim, and it is possible to get a comforting sense of enjoyment from the less-involved interaction with the activity.
Leveling via standard questing lets me tune almost completely out and just enjoy the game. I can turn on YouTube, or a podcast, or any other mode of passive content and just play. The frustrations I’m feeling in real life can be channeled into the game – being astonished at how bad the Burning Crusade quests still feel, especially now that they are the oldest tier of content in the live game, being bothered that Fury Warriors don’t get dual-wield skills now until level 14, or being annoyed with low drop rates of quest items. Maybe the game isn’t satisfying to some people for that same reason, but for me, past launch windows, it is absolutely something I find a lot of return on investment in.
I’m happy that people have WoW Classic to go to because I know people find value of their own in that experience, but for me, the current game offers me a chance to play without having to get really into it, and Classic does not offer me that same level of surface engagement. For me, there is some value to having active gameplay, but I don’t always want that.
I think that is the thing about WoW that keeps me coming back, in a lot of ways. Most of the time, I can play the game with a barely surface-level engagement, still get something out of it, and it has more to offer if I dig deeper, which on a weekly basis means dungeons, raids, and more involved first runs of story questing. WoW, in a very weird way, is mentally comforting to me.
And sometimes, that’s all I need.