There’s been a lot of talk about ‘secret’ places in game during the last week on my timeline, and I’ll admit I’ve paid the chatter around Orbs and Hippogryphs fairly scant attention as a result. There’s a very good reason for this, which has a lot to do with me realising early on in Alpha that this time around, I wanted to remain unspoilt for content. This has absolutely nothing to do with plot, by the way and absolutely everything around mechanics. What datamining did for me in previous expansions was take away a level of surprise which was in every way akin to being spoilt for relevant plot points. Knowing you could negate flying by a combination of factors, for instance, takes an awful lot of mental thought away from problem solving. Forcing yourself to do that may well not be many people’s idea of fun, but for me it is why the game exists.
Problem solving, I realise, is why I hate and love Warcraft so much.
This love affair really began in Icecrown. I used to HATE Jousting, so much for a while that I considered quitting. For those of you blessed with better levels of manual dexterity, this is probably enough to make you laugh into your flat whites, but I just couldn’t do it. It’s why that quest in Outland with Skyshatter still remains unfinished in my quest log. Some things, I just couldn’t grasp, and learning to walk away is probably the hardest lesson I’ve ever been taught. Secrets and hidden stuff is great if you possess the time, patience and ability to complete them. Yes, I’d love a Time Lost Proto Drake, but I can’t have one because of the type of person I’d then have to become in order to own it. It is a delicate balancing act, this game/life stuff. Making the right choices isn’t something many people consider: it’s a game, you just have to finish the thing to ‘win.’
Except often, that’s the best way to ensure your enjoyment is ruined.
Those of you following the Blog will know I’ve been trying to level but keep getting distracted by my Leatherworking quests: well, yesterday I determined that no more storyline questing was getting done until I’d knocked off the Leatherworking portion of outstanding tasks. That meant a couple of revelations: it hadn’t registered I’d need an instance quest to complete the Mail portion of things. In fact, that point didn’t sink in until I was standing next to the Eye of Azshara Portal. Even reading and being told stuff by other people sometimes won’t cause you to be spoilt, if your brain won’t put the pieces together in the right order, and I was tired when I started questing yesterday. By the time I’d finished however mental exhaustion was the bigger issue. In 12 years of playing, that two hour burst of effort in Highmountain is probably the best I’ve ever felt about any quest ever, and in the end it had nothing whatsoever to do with big storylines and major faction changes. It was all about Hrul Sharphoof, and his people, plus the realisation that if you do this game justice, the story is never just about heroes.
History is what matters most of all in Azeroth.
There are four spots to discover in Highmountain, where you pay thanks to those who have skinned and stitched and created before you. It seems like a chore at first, lip service to get your final patterns, but as I tried to find the way up mountains without flying or a guide, the truth became apparent. If you allow yourself to be truly lost in fiction, whatever variety that may be, there comes a point where you make a choice. It is just words, or images, or notes, or something happens between your brain and the stimulus and it changes, evolves into something else, that unique combination of your brain cells and the prompt. When I reached this point, finally after an hour, I couldn’t believe that someone would place a memorial here, that it was annoying and frustrating and then… I just went there. Highmountain became real, and my dwarf was inching across frozen rock, trying not to fall, suddenly seized with the desire to make it to this spot of beauty to say it was done, I did it.
Then, as I clicked on the cold, weather-beaten memorial, an ancestor’s voice whispered in my mind:
I’m crying now, writing this, I’ll happily admit. Yup, the 49 year old mother of two is reduced to tears by the understanding that the game isn’t just a bunch of mates biffing a boss or five of you doing a dungeon. It’s Pherian, standing on the top of a mountain, tears freezing, hitting the snow beneath her feet as tiny droplets of enlightenment. Spoiling via data mining is all well and good, but it is the stuff you can’t discover via mechanical means that has the potential to hold the most significant and long-lasting impact. However, and this is the more important point: you have to want it. I know many players who would have said ‘I’m not doing this, it’s a stupid mechanic’ or accused Activision Blizzard of making this deliberately awkward and could I have flying now please? I think perhaps these people don’t lose themselves in fiction as much as I do, or this is simply something to be completed on the way to raiding readiness. I’m not sure how other people’s minds work, that much is abundantly apparent from the last few weeks on Social Media. Obsessions are deeply personal, after all.
The end of this quest is not the end of the line however, and once I hit 110 today there is a coda. I know what this is, having had that surprise taken from me last night by someone who I can 100% guarantee did not mean to spoil me, but did. The fact I’m still annoyed at this after a night’s sleeps means that this questline’s had a significant impact. I don’t think ill or badly at all towards the person, for the record: what they’ve done is merely cement the belief that plot isn’t the only thing that’s important in Azeroth. History matters more, and the lore retconning that’s taking place puts some interesting conflicts into the mix, especially if histories will be re-written to support the direction the narrative’s now taking. It means that when I level anyone else with a crafting profession, there’ll need to be time and thought given to where they start, what they’re equipped with and how I move forward with their journeys not as alts, but characters.
One of Activision Blizzard’s main objectives this Expansion was to instil as sense of ‘class fantasy’ with the Artefact weapons. What’s also happened here is a sense of ‘profession fantasy’ with Leatherworking. After a decade plus of plying my trade, I have rediscovered the reason why I’m here: it takes time to complete the best work, there is thought and effort with every craft. The fact at the end I am rewarded with something rare and unique, that this isn’t simply deposited in my bags and has to be earnt? So much the better. It also means that, for a subset of players for whom this task has always been a chore and never an adventure, there is a chance to pull them back into the game world and away from the constant desire simply to make money from the Auction House. Whether this works, of course, is yet to be seen, but it makes for very interesting dilemmas along the way.
Once I hit end game, I have a whole new set of adventures ahead of me. I doubt however any will have quite the impact that Leatherworking has had on my view of Azeroth and how I fit within it. For that, I may never find a way to thank Activision Blizzard enough.