RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 18th

Give a man a December the 18th advent calendar window and he can eat chocolate for a day. Give him an entire RPS-approved Fairtrade advent calendar and he can eat chocolate for (almost) a month. Or he could just gobble the lot in one crazed OM NOM NOM frenzy.

Couldn't we have a jelly baby for a change?

Me though, I’m not even going to eat today’s chocolate. I’m more of a savoury man, frankly. You? You’re into games, arentcha? Here’s one, then.

Iiiiiit’s….. (certain parts of) World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade!

Okay, stop bellowing “WHAAAAAAAAAT?” and slamming your fist against your monitor for a second. This one’s a little different from our other calendar entries. I’m not talking about The Burning Crusade: The Game. I’m talking about The Burning Crusade: The Moment.

Nng. Bear with me. I’m as uncomfortable about this as you are. I said to the others that I wasn’t sure about this, but they threatened to tell everyone about all those dead hookers in the boot of my car if I didn’t agree to it.

But they have a point – it just involves bending the rules slightly. This time, I’m talking about a state of the game that no longer exists, not an experience RPS readers could really have now, more’s the pity. Cast your mind back, back, back to early this year, and the launch of The Burning Crusade, World of Warcraft’s first expansion pack. It was a major occurrence for much of the PC gaming community – almost every lapsed WoW player sniffed at it with renewed interest, and the dedicated types were in something like a frenzy of experience point-based excitement. For me, personally, it was an opportunity for the game to fix itself. The raid and pvp grinding element of WoW never appealed to me- a game that had been about exploration and adventure turned into one based on numbers and snobbery come level 60. I couldn’t stand it. Incremental kit improvements weren’t anywhere near enough of a sense of accomplishment to continue.

Then I went to Outland, the new continent, and everything changed. In one fell swoop, the insufferable hardcore players who’d made late-WoW such a stat-centric misery were rendered just like me. The insane Epic loot that they’d put hundreds of hours into collecting was swiftly outdone by mismatched kit I pulled out of a vulture carcass. I was still a nobody, but when everyone else was a nobody, it didn’t matter so much. For a week or two, I had pretty much all I wanted from WoW – new places to explore, a palpable sense of becoming stronger, stumbling into inventive quests, hearing tall tales of beasts and secrets that lurked in the highest-level zones. Adventure!

The thought of returning to WoW now sickens me slightly, but I truly had a fine time in The Burning Crusade’s earliest days. Teamed with a gang of chums, we lapped up all the Outland we could get – even swearing that we wouldn’t go through The Dark Portal that led to this new area until we could do it together. Bestest friends 4 eva!!!!! Except when we finally did all gather to do it, each of us ashamedly revealed that, actually, we’d already been through it – we were each too excited not to.

It didn’t last long. The dedicated players stayed online 24/7, desperate to hit the level 70 cap and return to their life of infinitely looped dungeon-running again as soon as possible. The early areas emptied quickly, and those few of us that were here to casually explore in our spare time found we had almost no-one to group with, no-one to ask for advice. The second honeymoon was over. I scraped my way painfully up to level 70 over the following month or so, and when I finally reached the top of that mountain, all I saw was a barren wasteland of statistics and elitists. The adventure was over.

There’s another reason The Burning Crusade’s in our game-o-calendar, and that’s the Draenei quests. One of the expansion’s two new races, they came complete with a new starting area full of freshly-made missions. While the other new race, The Blood Elves, wasted theirs on a thousand miserable variations on collect 28 pigeon teeth quests, someone deep in Blizzard seemed to be fighting against the dead-eyed machine when it came to make the Draenei challenges.

They were fun. One mission grants you a few minutes on a mount at just level 10, capering about the landscape at joyous speeds that wouldn’t otherwise be possible until level 40, weeks or months down the line. It was the game proving what it could do, the ways it had at its disposal to entertain.

They were varied. Another quest has you don a hilariously unconvincing tree disguise, and lurk in a clearing spying on an enemy rendenzvous. It was pure farce, especially if done in a group – a line of suspiciously wobbling vegetation, creeping slightly forward whenever the enemies turned their backs, and freezing the second they looked around.

They even, on occasion, had personal resonance. One huge quest chain climaxes with an entire village throwing a gratifyingly enormous thank you ceremony for you. In the crowd was every NPC you’d chatted to along the way of this arc. They lined the streets, they cheered, they shouted your name. And there’s a space right in the middle of them all for you stand. So you go stand there. And you type /dance, or /train, and you hammer the screenshot key frantically, absolutely overcome with pride. It felt incredible. It was a proper mini-narrative with a proper mini-conclusion, not the sudden fizzle out and a handful of gold pieces the game generally fobs you off with. For once, you weren’t just a hero. You were The Hero, the way a fantasy adventure world is supposed to make you feel all the time.

In the Draenei quests were the first real hints of what World of Warcraft could really be, if only it ever focused on something other than keeping people in the system, repeating themselves endlessly to chase impossibly rare drops. It’s capable of being an incredibly charming game. I wish it could be like that all the time.

So, we reluctantly grant the Burning Crusade a place in our retrospective hearts. But just the first two weeks of the Burning Crusade, a unique moment of promise and adventuring, before the game defaulted back to inflicting untold damage upon the MMORPG genre.

41 Comments

  1. Chris R says:

    Oh man… the first two weeks starting the night of the release was so fun… the zones were PACKED with people, each of us scurrying around, trying to figure out where to go and what to do…. good times. And the drops! That was the best part… “These green sholders are just as good as my T3 shoulders!”

    I think Zangra Marsh is one of my favorite zones… just because it feels so mystical.

  2. The_B says:

    Or he could just eat the lot in one giant OM NOM NOM frenzy.

    Is this your way of letting the other RPS’ know that yo…errr… a ninja came in and STOLE ALL THE CHOCOLATES?

  3. Roosterfeet says:

    I was one of ‘the insufferable hardcore players who’d made late-WoW such a stat-centric misery.’ I didn’t want to be, but I ran out of things to do and I had 40 good friends that wanted to raid. I felt like I had been baited and switched by the end game, but I liked late night drinking raids with that crew and eventually got the satisfaction of feeling monsterously overpowered thanks to suffering through many hours of raiding.

    Then BC came out and I felt like all my time had been wasted. I leveled up to 70, hit the first raid instance a few times and realized that I was suffering through crazily difficult and frustrating content all over again just to be stripped of everything that makes my character special when the next expansion comes out. So I quit. Bait and switch.

  4. Butler says:

    It’s kinda scary that you posted this. I’ve been reminiscing on these exact same memories and emotions – reveling in “the release period” of The Burning Crusade.

    For 1-2 weeks, I was in pure bliss. Provided (like in my case) you can get some time of work and thus play stupid hours, you can: enjoy fresh content, world pvp, endless solo quests, small group quests, non-raid instances and all this with everyone on a level(ish) platform. Absolute gaming heaven.

    Then after a few months it goes back to standing in Ironforge/Orgrimmar, and so I promptly quit.

    Roll on WotLK.

  5. Slappeh says:

    OMG NOEZ – BLASPHEMY! GET THIS OFF THE CALENDER NOEWZ!

  6. Garth says:

    Just a quick point, you spelled Draenei wrong every single time ;)

    Also, I’m totally with you on the late-game. I still play (albeit not often) my 70, but only in BG’s, and only at non-peak hours (so as to avoid the Tier 6 monstrosities). I started pseudo-twinking a couple alts (I say pseudo because I didn’t get retardedly expensive enchants, I just got decent blue drops from instances) and had some fun with that – until the ultra-twinks arrive. My friend has a screenshot of a game where a warrior and druid (both twinked) managed to both win an entire WSG on their own, essentially. They were so hard to kill it would take 4 players 1 minute straight to kill the druid, solo. /sigh

    As to the gear, I never thought anything would make me as happy as when High Warlord gear was made purchasable for honour. Suddenly the tier 2 Alliance raid-prostitutes had challenges. There was a joke in BG’s back then: “How do you tell if you’re Horde or Alliance? If you’re Alliance, everyone around you has tier 2, if you’re Horde, everyone around you has HWL shoulders.” And then we’d laugh, and laugh…

    Now, I log onto my 70, avec his pretty welfare epics (Season 1 Arena gear), and go up against people with (literally) double my +spell damage. People who have so much shadow resist my spells don’t hit (less than 10% chance).

    I don’t want to find 24 other people, spend literally 6+ hours a day doing the same fucking raid over and over. I don’t want to instance-grind. Why the fuck is the game so goddamn hopped-up on grinds?

    I knew I wouldn’t like the (WotLK) expansion when I read the following quote: “The first time you go through this dungeon, you’re going to be amazed and look at all the intricate artwork and the great enemies. It might not be the same the next seventeen times you run it, but the first time will be really special.” (Emphasis mine.)

    How anyone could say that and be even remotely proud of what they’ve done is beyond me.

  7. roBurky says:

    I’m not sure I understand what’s different about the post-release period. Are you just saying you preferred it when there were more people around you?

  8. Leeks! says:

    And Alec Meer’s heart did grow three sizes that day…

    And then promptly shrank back down to a manageable size. No sense in an over-large heart.

  9. Elyscape says:

    IT’S A TRAP

  10. drunkymonkey says:

    I think you’re being slightly too harsh on the ol’ game, myself. It may be because I play RP servers and therefore take part in player-run storylines (it’s actually something I now couldn’t do without), but having returned to WOW again, it’s again apparent why it’s so brilliant. Brief stints with Guilld Wars and Hellgate have really shown how intuitive and well-presented WoW really is, and how well thought out it is.

    Some of the quest lines are awful. But some are brilliant. I still count the Linken quest as my favourite. I love WOW, and I think it’s one of the best PC games ever to come out.

  11. Seniath says:

    Two and a half months clean \o/

    I was one of the number crunching elitist pricks, right up until the day I suddenly thought “you know, this is actually no fun”.

    Haven’t looked back. Tho it doesn’t help that my girlfriend is an avid player and equally hardcore raider.

  12. Nick says:

    Why do we who like a long and engaging game have to suffer because of a bunch of ADHD fuled people can’t be arsed finishing a 5 hour game?

  13. Nick says:

    crap, wrong comment area.. stupid tabs!

  14. Tom says:

    Everyone raves about the Draenei zone quests and dismisses the Blood Elf zones out of hand which I think is very unfair. There’s a whole vibe going on in Silvermoon and the Ghostlands which is absolutely fantastic – a race of elves on a bacchanalian high of magic and power, surrounded by the wrecked beauty of their once proud capital. But the grandeur of their lands is tarnished not only by an invasion of the undead but also by the unseemly detritus of those elves who couldn’t handle it and became wasted junkies living in the equivalent of a cardboard city near the docks.

    While there’s no disguising yourself as a tree (!), there is a quest chain that ends up taking you to the Undercity and the throne room of Sylvanas which ends up with her singing a lament about her former life to you which I found to be one of the most moving moments in the whole game for me. Yet no-one ever mentions it – they just seem to concern themselves with a load of wannabe alien cossacks having a little party in their city.

    If the Draenei were any cop, they’d keep an angel in the basement and siphon it’s power just like the Blood Elves do.

  15. I_still_love_Okami says:

    I’ll start playing MMOs the day they’re like The Middle Country in Otherland.

  16. Bozzley says:

    I’ve recently got back into WoW, and am slowly crawling my way up to 70 with some of my pals. It’s enjoyable, and I’m not looking forward to being expected to raid constantly when I get there, but the journey is really good up to now.

  17. The_B says:

    Andin related news, the Verne Troyer ad is now out

    -But surely this is just expolitation? Hilariously funny exploitation, but still!

  18. terry says:

    vendor buy bank guards recdu recsu >:(

  19. ElelloN says:

    I’m not a hardcore player, but I do raid, and I raided a lot back before TBC. But my reason for raiding isn’t epics or trying to have better gear than the next fellow. The only reason why I raid is to have some fun with my guildies, these men and (a few) women that I’ve shared so much happiness and disappointment with over the years. I can honestly say that without my guild, I would quit WoW that same day.

  20. Flint says:

    Theree’s one thing about Draenei quests that you forgot: their feeling in general. Like you said, most WoW quests are there to keep you in the system and whilst they do have their interesting storylines etc occasionally, they’re often little more than just short quips that you just did more automatically the further you advance. The draenei starting quests however are just wholesomely different because they actually make you feel something about questing again. The whole draenei starting area is just so deep in melancholy, spaceship parts and corpses everywhere, the nature’s gone bonkers, etc. And you’re left to fix it, be it healing wounded soldiers or trying to make contact with the natives.

    I had only began playing WoW in April or so, and I got BC in Sept/Oct ( can’t remember) but already in that time I had started to lost the greater feel involved to quests (the fervor and excitement you do them when you play the game for the first time). The draenei starting quests nailed that feeling into me again – a rather lovely thing considering that I find solo questing (yeah yeah MMO and whatever) to be the core of the game instead of dungeon/PVP wanking.

    That’s a rather long ramble about one thing but still. I wish the new areas in Lich King had the same grabbing feeling in their quests, addiction through other things than just rewards.

    I don’t know if the BE starting area had a similar strong atmospheric vibe, when I started playing with a BE I was going through a WoW frustration (“ffs this is eating all my time again) and thus I viewed everything through a cloud of grumbling. The character was abandoned and deleted soon afterwards.

  21. malkav11 says:

    WoW (and other MMOs) for me was about the 1-60 game. (I had my account banned before Burning Crusade ever came out). Questing, levelling, exploring, having a grand old time. Had I ever reached maximum level, I would probably have either gone with an alt on the other side, or quit entirely, but it would still have provided three or four months of enjoyment. Quite sufficient.

  22. Jay says:

    World of Warcraft sucks! etc

    It killed ET

  23. eoy says:

    I’ve always hated questing, leveling and exploring, so I don’t really agree with you one tiny bit. For me the game is all about finding a guild you enjoy and can commit to, and then working as a team for progress. You make it sound like the top teams are chasing for stats and items, you’re wrong! Top teams are chasing for the sole satisfaction of being able to do something not many others can, and prove themselves as masters of the art of gaming.

    Having done the Dranei quests, I have to say they are a tiny bit better than the other quests, but I will never find myself astonished about something that doesn’t involve an effort from more than 1 player.

    When the next expansion comes, I would much rather choose to get a premade lvl80 character than having to do all the leveling again.

  24. eoy says:

    “I knew I wouldn’t like the (WotLK) expansion when I read the following quote: “The first time you go through this dungeon, you’re going to be amazed and look at all the intricate artwork and the great enemies. It might not be the same the next seventeen times you run it, but the first time will be really special.” (Emphasis mine.)

    How anyone could say that and be even remotely proud of what they’ve done is beyond me.”

    Who on earth would enjoy farming the same instance over and over again? The whole idea of PvE in WoW is that there’s always something waiting for you that is a bit harder than you can manage, a challenge for you to defeat. Why on earth would you farm those dungeons over and over again when there’s something new to experience?

    Speaking for myself, my guild was the 2nd guild in the world to finnish all pve content the game has to offer, so we’ve been sitting around doing nothing for the last 5-6 months, which is incredibly boring.

  25. Piratepete says:

    I left about a month after BC came out, after being that end game raider, and suffering the mixed kit indignity of being a feral druid, after months and months of getting peoples cast off kit from BWL or whatever, I was one of the first few through the gate on Aszune with four of my guildies. But I had a reputation as an excellent player and the most instruction I got in raids was ” Do what you do best” which on the odd occasion was save the raid.

    I was disheartened to discover my pseudo tiered gear wiped out in a matter of minutes of entering outland, but it was good fun.

    However a pregnant wife completing a college course meant that all my guildies raced ahead of me and Glorious Nightweaver hero of MC (but thats another story about dead tanks and a bear that Garr just couldn’t kill) found himself alone. Kettricken (said wifes rogue) was still stood in IF (account cancelled) so Nightie just pined away and in a futile gesture of irony to be seen by no-one finally logged off in the small building containing all the dead cat druids.

    Unfortunately, I can’t help feeling bitter about the whole experience. We were racking up 80 hours a week, two full time jobs worth of playing on top of our full time jobs. Our 10 year relationship collapsed to the point where we were typing messages to each other even tho we were sat 5 ft away from each other, but not because we weren’t talking, but because……well i don’t know really. Counselling followed and Wow was cited, much to the counsellors amazement, as a factor (I still hate the fact we had to spend one entire session explaining it to her because she couldn’t understand what we were on about)

    Even now the friend I used to see most weeks, and introduced to Wow now is raid leader, so we see him maybe once every three months and even then all he talks about is Wow. I know 3 people in the guild whose marriages broke up.

    The worst thing is that the people who we were so close to in the game have drifted away like mist, even after loads of friends for evah crap.

    No I’m angry at myself for losing two years playing a game that gave me nothing and took so much, and all the moments of feeling like a hero in the game (of which there are precisely two), can’t and don’t make up for it.

    The worst thing is that when my daughter grows up, at this point, I would probably be less worried if she said she was taking up cannabis than taking up Wow.

    Yes, bitter about it.

  26. Radiant says:

    I’ve never played WoW but I have silently passed judgement on anyone who has.
    wankers.

  27. Radiant says:

    I just read pirate pete’s story.

    Holy shit dude!
    You know if you spent as much time as you did playing WoW planning and executing a non violent bank heist you’d have much more interesting friends and you could’ve told that counsellor exactly what to do with their couch.

  28. Kieron Gillen says:

    I highly* enjoyed the first 20 levels of draenennnniiiiiii stuff and then got the fuck out.

    KG

    *I think it’s the best MMO start area, in any game, ever. That it’s about as long as many games are in total means that Burning Crusade is shamelessly on my list of neat stuff of the year.

  29. Piratepete says:

    @Radiant

    Looking back on it what scares me the most is just how insidiously it crept up on us both, I mean we are both intelligent articulate people in our 30’s who just didn’t see how it was taking over our lives. Even without thinking about it some saturdays we would get up, put Wow on on before we were dressed, just to say hello to the guild. Next thing you know you’ve done two back to back AQ20’s its five in the afternoon and you haven’t got out of your dressing gown. At the time it seemed perfectly natural, now it gives me the creeps tbh.

  30. Piratepete says:

    @Radiant

    Also does that mean I was a wnaker but am ok now?

  31. Pete says:

    I’m still playing. Yes I feel dirty, no I don’t care. It’s like one big co-op game if you find a good guild. There’s still grind sadly, but this is the first MMO to really grab me. Blizzard done good.

  32. Lightbulb says:

    “Looking back on it what scares me the most is just how insidiously it crept up on us both…”

    Its not surprising really. MMO’s are addictive, i played Guild Wars a scary amount. Came very close to losing my girlfriend and failing my (5 year!) degree.

    I guess the fact that it creeps up on you scary but when you think about it do you suppose alcoholics or drug addicts wake up one morning and decide “Thats the life for me!”

    I nearly started playing EVE this week because i heard how fun it is and then i just thought: “Do i want this to be my life?” because in the end that is what it will come down to.

    I vow to never play another MMO again nor will i join another competitive clan. Its the sense of purpose and the friendships formed thats addictive and its so hard to give it up because they are REAL firendships – but the game takes over too much.

    I sometimes think that something is missing in our lives if we cannot get that sense of purpose and friendship from our day to day life…

    To those of you enjoying yourselves with MMO’s ask yourself this: In 5 years time when you look back at what you have done do you want your greatest achievement to be having a full set of match gear in your drug of choice?

    You may say that you can play an MMO and not become obsessed – fine but remember what i said about the alcoholic and drug user no one chooses to become an addict.

    Be careful and try to keep some perspective is all i say.

  33. Radiant says:

    A mate of mine had a cousin drop out of uni to play WoW.
    His other cousin dropped out of uni to play online poker and won 80k in vegas.

    Blizzard and Vegas have a lot to answer for.

    Thing is I’ve never understood the appeal of RPGs.
    I tried playing a few on the PSP and it was just a giant holding pattern.
    You’d fight and gather stuff to level up but when you did level up you just fought and gathered stuff some more.

    I have an idea for a game.
    You [and a bunch of other people] click regenerating dots of various colours.
    When you click a number of dots they drop power-ups which have various effects on the other dots [slow down…remove some…collect all the power ups].
    Every so often the game would shift slighty so it looked slightly different but remain the same game.
    People can band together to tackle the game as a group.
    All within a very nice chat interface that allows you to put personal info up about yourself…

    I’m going to make BILLIONS!
    But feel shitty about doing it whilst I swim amongst my gold coins.

  34. Piratepete says:

    Radiant you nicked my idea for my MMO “Pavlovian Response”

    They should just cut any pretext and call it ‘Pavlovian response’

    Everytime you hit a button you see a pretty picture, then it takes 2 button presses to get the picture then 2,4,8 etc. eventually 40 of you must press the button in a set sequence to get the picture one in every hundred successful attempts.

    Pvp is if you have more button presses than the next person you win.

    Cheap to program and will make addicts out of everyone.

    Designing MMO’s, money for old rope i reckon

    Cheeky fcuker :)

  35. Radiant says:

    Hehe
    The pretty picture is important because you want to build an emotional attachment.
    Like putting a heart on a cube.

  36. matte_k says:

    the only mmorpg i’ve played is final fantasy xi, on the recommendation of a friend, but i’ve experienced similar problems. It just gets to the point where you’re just levelling continuously, for instance you have to be level 30 in one job to take the quests to unlock other jobs if you want to use them. and getting from level 20 to 30 is so hard, even with a party. Also, spending ages just waiting to be invited to a party is one of the most depressing things ever. So, i cut back on time spent playing, level at my own pace and just explore more. This has brought back my enjoyment of the game, as i know eventually i’ll get to where i want to be, and in the meantime i can enjoy the ride again. it should be a game, not a treadmill, and that’s the scary thing about these games- they suck you in to believing you HAVE to play them all the time, especially when there’s peer pressure from other players to keep up.

    I almost failed my degree due to a Morrowind addiction, i’ll be damned if i’m going to lose my job to a game.

  37. matte_k says:

    also, what the hell is the Japanese addiction to cat people?

    FFXI has a cat people race called Mithra, all female for some bizarre reason, so guys playing Mithra are called “Manthras”, and have a leper like stigma attached to them. I find it interesting that mmorpgs allow you to be anything you want to be, but change your gender and your name is mud. Anybody want to comment on that?

  38. Iain says:

    I’ve probably put more time into The Burning Crusade this year than the rest of my games combined. And I am not ashamed.

    I recently resubbed and can concur with Tom above: the Blood Elf starting area is very good. It doesn’t have quite so strong a set of quests as the Draenei starting area (no tree disguises or jumping off cliffs attached to a pair of great golden wings, for example) but the overall ambience of the area is fabulous, with Sorceror’s Apprentice style animated brooms sweeping up dust from the streets and arcane golems standing guard in Silvermoon City… and most importantly, the Blood Elves have a better /dance animation.

    But it’s in Outland where The Burning Crusade really reignited my love for the game, however. I was there on the first night as a newly-minted level 58 Night Elf Druid, with hundreds of players from both factions crowding around the portal in Blasted Lands, having a bit of impromptu PvP (that brought down the server, as there were so many people fighting) while we waited for midnight.

    Then the portal opened and we all poured through, to be met with the sight of a massive Elite demon being fought off by the portal guards. That was it, the sense of wonder was back, and didn’t go until I’d plundered every map area. Yet I still marvel at the grandeur of some of the design – it’s a genuinely phenomenal game, and as long as Blizzard keep coming up with new areas like Netherstorm or Zangarmarsh, I’ll keep buying the expansion packs.

  39. Iain says:

    Oh, and if you’ve not watched it yet the WoW TV advert (for French TV) by Jean-Claude Van Damme is pretty cool. I can see him as a Troll.

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