My brother and I always have the best ideas.
For example, this most recent one. Let’s hop on a ten year old MMO and make new characters together. But let’s do it like we’re completely fresh. No gold given to our new characters. No gear hand me downs. No guild but the two of us. Let’s also do it on the faction neither of us had played since said MMO launched their major leveling content reboot.
That’s how we ended up on an underpopulated World of Warcraft RP server, playing Alliance characters with barely 1 gold between us, I on my fierce dwarf warrior (Boggins) and he on his really dumb looking wargen druid (Mathenwulf).
I have a sneaking suspicion that there’s not been a truly new WoW player in at least five years, maybe longer. It’s a game that’s almost certainly buoyed by alts and recycled players, with server transfers acting in lieu of or as supplements to rerolls. Cataclysm, WoW’s third expansion, was all about redoing the low level content. Leveling curves were smoothed, content made more streamlined, and everything was made more tightly tied to WoW’s story.
So, in addition to the merry adventures of our guild of two, I’m legitimately curious if the game has been tuned for the theoretical new player. I want to see if you can come in from ground level and do well, not just muddle through. These are our ground rules:
- No outside gold or items. Everything has to be gotten legit. Mounts are the only thing which don’t count, since those are account wide.
- No guild for support other than the two of us.
- We only play our characters together, never singly.
- We can run dungeons but only once each. No dungeon grinding. We’re here to quest. No random dungeons, since those grant extra experience.
- No PvP. You can level through PvP and WoW PvP sucks.
- Try to be at least a little drunk as often as possible while playing.
That’s Boggins. The first thing you’ll notice is that he’s very grey. I thought it would be really cool to have a grey skinned dwarf since a) dwarves are completely rad and b) grey dwarves look like stone so that makes them extra rad. I gave him a grey beard, too, which unfortunately made him look completely stupid. So a haircut is on the agenda once I can afford it, unless the notion of a monotone dwarf eventually appeals to me (it won’t eventually appeal to me).
The first five levels of the dwarf starter zone were tedious. Lots of putting things on the ground into my bag and yellow (neutral) monsters with no real chance of killing me. The tedium was compounded by the fact that warriors are boring as hell before they get to pick a specialization at level 10. It’s a lot of slow killing and a complete lack of choice in how to do it.
By ten minutes in, I was already regretting this while Peter (my brother; he has a name) seemed to be having a great time, and doing so very vocally, over in wolf person land.
Peter: I don’t know why Ian wanted to roll Alliance characters, but he really wanted to roll Alliance characters. He told me that he wanted to “see the story from the other side.” Despite having played WoW for several years, I am only vaguely aware that WoW even has a story.
The more my brother talked about making new characters, the more I started thinking it was a good idea (by the way, it wasn’t). He has an infectious optimism about him most of the time, and especially where video games are involved. I’m pretty sure he could convince me to throw a sleepover where we play JRPGs together all night if he really tried.
Ian made a dwarf because he always makes dwarves. I didn’t care that much about my race but knew I wanted a Druid. Apparently, a night elf was off the table since they are stupid, so that left a worgen. That’s cool because werewolves are pretty. I knew I’d be spending a lot of time in other forms, but I thought it would be pretty sweet to heal my brother’s dwarf, a gnarled staff clasped in my clawed hands, my grey fur blowing in the winds of magic.
I got this instead.
I wasn’t sure I actually wanted to do this, but there was one thing I did know that I wanted to do. As soon as I hit level 2 (and that didn’t take long) I exuberantly typed into our party chat: “DING”.
Ian doesn’t like it when people say ‘ding.’ He didn’t respond. We were in voice chat too, on headsets, so I asked him why he hadn’t acknowledged my ding. He still didn’t respond. I swiftly let him know that the only way I was going to do this was if he responded every time I dinged.
That’s when we started talking about Achievements.
Ian: WoW’s Achievements are a disaster. In theory, they’re for measuring how good you are at content completion versus others, except the visual cues for doing so are really few and far between; a mount here, a pet there. So in practice it’s just this invisible number weirdly out of place in a game geared relentlessly on giving your characters visual upgrades to show how cool you are. It’s even worse when you consider that Guild Wars 2 took their achievements and gave bags of gear and cool things for getting them done, as well as giving numerous paths to get them. WoW’s so far behind the curve on this that it’s almost shocking, given that they’ve made their bank on taking things other MMOs do and making them suck less.
So I go after achievement points half-heartedly, if at all. I reckoned that if we’re saying “ding” to each other then we’re already halfway to stupid anyway. We were going to go after achievements, even if it was only ironically, and we were going to call them “cheevos”. Cheevos is just about my favorite stupid gamer word. It’s an enormously dumb sounding word and I love it in all its shortened, faux-catchy glory. My wife suggested that we name our guild Los Cheevos Hermanos. That was a really good name, so we became Los Cheevos Hermanos as soon as we scrounged the signatures for a guild charter.
Even this wasn’t drama free, though. We both bought guild carters, which cost 10 silver each; that’s not a lot of money unless you’re trying to do this legit fresh. I was not happy. When I got rid of mine and Peter feigned that he had also thrown his out, meaning we had to get another one, I was distraught. He thought his reveal that he was lying was funny. I’m still angry as I type this.
We also had to find a couple more people to sign the charter in order to form the guild because Blizzard is all about keeping really archaic social gating in weird places, even though they’ve done everything in their power to remove it from the places that actually need it, like raiding. Thankfully, mercifully, two people signed on quickly. This one really nice person offered us 500g as a welcome to the server gift but we turned it down; accepting that money would have clearly violated the spirit of our rules. I hope we didn’t hurt her feelings.
This was also about the time that I heard Peter’s wife in the background saying that this was stupid, that we wouldn’t last two days, and that she was going to bed (she, of course, rolled an Alliance character on the same server in a couple of days). The gauntlet was thrown.
Because we had to follow through now. Someone close to us was saying that there was no way we were going to follow through and, by god, if you want me to do something sometimes the only way to get me to do it is to tell me I won’t. We were going to level 90 and I was dragging Peter with me.
I got the bright idea to go to Stormwind and hitting the human starter zones after seeing that the dwarf lands (I can’t remember the name of their first zone; Dun something) were basically unchanged since I made a dwarf in WoW’s original beta. Peter, for his part, was stuck in Gilneas, which sounded both faster and more fun than what I had in front of me.
Boy, was going to Stormwind (and then Elwynn Forest, the level 1-10 human zone) a mistake. Stormwind is majestic, but Elwynn is even less changed than Dun Dwarfplace. And, being a warrior, everything was better than me. The questing was like watching paint dry. I kept running pies back and forth to people. It’s basically LOTRO’s Shire with half the charm and three times the mobs in your way.
By hour two, I wanted to die.
Peter: So, we had our characters and we had our goals. All I had to do now was actually play WoW again from the beginning.
At first it didn’t seem so bad. The worgen starting zone is pretty atmospheric, and the quests went quickly. But then it just kept going and going and going. Everything from levels 1 to 15 or so is sort of a blur. I fought Sylvanas, a major WoW NPC who inexplicably had only four thousand health or something like that when I faced her. I gained several levels and learned how to shapeshift, which kept me entertained briefly. I remember killing things and taking their body parts. Mostly I remember Ian incoherently ranting about how much his warrior sucked. I just wanted to get to the boat. Eventually that happened, but by then I was pretty tired and shaken.
But I was in Stormwind.
Ian: While Peter was busy playing in an interactive movie which never ends, I was slamming my face into old content, leveling slowly, and dying. I can’t believe they didn’t touch Elwynn Forest. It’s not that it’s bad, precisely, but they left in a few old quests which are relics of a bygone, less streamlined era. For anyone pining for the old days of Original Recipe WoW, let me present the following screenshot:
That’s me, dead. That red bar you see, with the name “Surena Caledon” above it, is one of three enemies in that house. I need to kill them for a quest. A solo quest. All of them are a higher level than I am.
This is also the first time either of us died. Peter took immense, and I mean immense, joy in my having the first death. And I probably was screaming incoherently. I was mad. The warrior experience prior to level ten is awful. You have one ability you use in a normal fight; the others you see on my bar there are situational. So I was just running around using Heroic Strike and autoattacking things. This was boring but fine against one mob at a time. Three tougher than usual mobs, including one mage flinging fireballs at me as I ran? Nope.
Peter eventually showed up but I was annoyed, drunk, and tired by the time he did. I was sick of Elwynn Forest. His druid sauntered off the boat in bear form. The worgen bear form looks ridiculous, like some S&M fever dream cooked up by someone who has never actually seen anyone in S&M gear. It’s basically a bear with Billy Idol gloves.
I had hit level 10 while waiting for him and specialized in my tank tree. Immediately, I became a complete beast, practically one-shotting enemies with my Shield Slam ability. It was a shocking turnaround. More than that, it was inexcusable. It’s just bad game design to have that sort of jump in power. I won’t remember it in another ten levels, but it was absolutely jarring and weird to go from struggling to hitting people with my shield and watching them almost immediately fall over. I mean, I was happy, but it was a weird happy. I’ve played every class, some numerous times, and every time I play a warrior the jump in competence is the same. 1-9: painful and boring by any standard. 10+: raging, unstoppable behemoth.
Once we had things situated, we headed over to Westfall, the next zone over, to start our joint leveling adventure. I considered asking Peter to help me kill Surena and her friends but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing I needed his help. Plus, I was ready to see the back of Elwynn. The point, after all, was to see Alliance content I hadn’t seen; Westfall had been radically altered by the Cataclysm expansion, so it was all new. Little did we know that we were walking into a reactionary fantasy of killing poor people and revolutionaries in the name of a monarch…