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I’m in Felwood, unable to sleep, and expecting that at 2.45am on a Friday morning I’ll have an unimpeded shot at Whipper Root Tubers. They don’t share a CD with bandages and potions, which means I can keep myself alive in Sunday’s Molten Core raid when there’s no healers left. When I meet half a dozen people doing the same thing but none of them are feeding a baby daughter, the realisation finally happens. This game’s addictive. If you’re knowingly and intentionally up this early in the morning to gain a tactical advantage via farming? Shit just got very real indeed.

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Welcome to the fist ever End Game, where your server’s reputation could destroy you overnight. It was why you had a second L60 so if you fucked up on your main laying low was totally a thing. Epic Mount Quests were the best thing that ever happened to game play. People celebrated when a quest chain was introuduced to collect a sub raid tier set. You could shove 15 people into UBRS but unless your Hunter could kite that second dragon add out of the last room, everybody was buggered. Winterspring was an exotic location, and there was nothing south of Tanaris you could reach without getting a temporary ban.

It really was, all told, utterly wank in hindsight.

When sitting down to write a post about L60 before TBC, it is very easy to grasp why so many players end up waxing lyrical about an age where all you had was two continents. It’s the metaphor of the other player’s Gear Score always being better, time and again. If your World is what it is, and there is nothing else, then game play only goes so far. Imagination then takes over, plus a healthy slice of inventiveness. It’s how playing the Auction House became an art form, why Iron Man challenges continue to have merit over a decade on. When all that exists is a small space and limited resources, then content and variety don’t matter. The problem, of course, was that it wasn’t enough even back then. Because you have to move forward, Vanilla became the benchmark for so much it should never have been.

That includes people like me who keep reminding others that they lived there.

I remember the day I passed the last piece of dungeon tier I needed to someone else and understood how much better it feels to not be selfish. The day I pulled half of Scholo with my imp and the Warlock didn’t get played for a week was a classic too. Then came the day when TBC was announced and, within a week, the Raiding alliance I was in effectively disintegrated. I’ll do a separate post on raiding Molten Core next week but for now, I can remember sitting in Searing Gorge as everting imploded around me and realising that nothing would ever be the same again. I then had a choice: did I effectively toss all my effort in Pherian and start again from scratch, or did I leave for good?

I watch people having this same argument even now. Why should this be a grind or that, why am I bothering when there’ll just be a massive reset at X? Nothing has changed in 12 years. All that has altered, in effect, are the memories of those who live here, and as each new idea is inserted on top of the others those who can recite the Leatherworking trainers from Vanilla to now become fewer. Those of us who recall just how rare it was to get a Finkle’s Skinner, or even a Pristine Hide of the Beast. That trip to Winterspring to hand in a item you never got to even start, let alone finish. My husband took six years to complete his Thunderfury, and when the Bindings dropped from Geddon last week while I was farming Tier, the irony was very real.

There are so many stories about Vanilla, and everybody has their own. My favourite is about Mandokir’s Sting and reminds you, should it be required, that pixels are only that and never worth losing the plot over. I think a lot about my days in Vanilla of late, as it happens, and a lot of that is around the calm and serenity that fishing gave. I can still recall my favourite spots in the Plaguelands and Winterspring, and that I (of course) had to ride there, because flying mounts had not yet been invented. Then there was all the stuff around the AQ Gates but really, that history is better recorded by someone who was current at the time. I did my work on that quest line before Cataclysm, and hold no rights to discuss any of it with a measure of validity.

What remains most vivid in the memory of end game was the waiting. In the days before LFG, queuing became an art form. Gathering a group was an exercise in patience and I can remember one of my proudest moments after the AQ gates opened and you needed a 40 man team to kill a specific summonable outdoor boss. 40 people were gathered in less than an hour, and it was glorious to behold. The same group then went on and did World PvP and I killed my first faction boss on the same night. Ah, they were indeed the days but they are long gone, and NO DON’T KEEP ASKING FOR LEGACY. There’s a reason people retro game as a hobby and not a full-time lifestyle, and living in the past is putting everybody on a hiding to nothing.

Leave Vanilla in the freezer where it belongs, and enjoy what you have, people.

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