I left World of Warcraft in 2010, but World of Warcraft never quite left me.
Blizzard’s prized cash cow is now on its 8th expansion, which feels almost unreal. When I last checked in on the game it was still in Legion and I only got as far as Mists of Pandaria before my subscription (and patience) ran out. I didn’t even get a chance to take a peek at Battle for Azeroth and now we’re in Shadowlands already. It feels like mere months ago, but apparently 3 years flew by.
I quit the game shortly after the Cataclysm expansion because it became depressing to play for me. I had always taken a very casual attitude to the game. I ran a social guild with some friends, I goofed around and took part in holiday events, and kept a healthy balance between playing the game and living my actual life. I cared immensely about the Warcraft story, however, and each new expansion came with a wave of disappointment for me.
Since I wasn’t an end-game player with a guild dedicated to raiding, my enjoyment of each expansion ended when the solo quests did. You’d spend the entire expansion hearing about Illidan, Arthas, and their lackeys, but only the die-hard players would actually get to face off against these villains and see their story to completion. A casual player like myself had to content with the 5-man dungeons and maybe the lower-tier raids if a pick-up group was generous enough to take me along.
Story is one of the main reasons I play a game and not getting to see any of it to completion for years in a row began to get very annoying. Cataclysm frightened me, not just because it represented my failure to battle Arthas in time, but also because it exposed Blizzard’s willingness to remove content if I wasn’t fast enough. I’d always intended to make a Horde character and get the infamous experience of playing through The Barrens. I wanted to play through zones likes Hillbrad or Ashenvale, which I had always neglected on prior characters… and now I would never be able to.
The zones had been changed and their storylines were gone. If I wanted to experience that part of the Warcraft lore it’d have to be through wiki articles or half-remembered tales from people who did get to play it. Nothing was stopping me from playing the game as I always had, but the realization I had permanently lost access to content I never had a chance to play shattered my enthusiasm for the game. After all, if it happened now… what was stopping this from happening again?
I only saw two solutions before me. Either I dedicate myself fully to World of Warcraft and make sure I always have multiple end-game characters and completed every quest available across every faction… or I stop.
I chose the latter.
However, even as I moved on to other games, my interest in the Warcraft universe remained. I’d periodically create trial accounts to see what was going on in the game. A part of me wanted to get back into it, but each time the unease I felt after the Cataclysm transition struck again.
I’d return to a game that had moved on without me. Azeroth felt alien and strange to, as the world had been redesigned and tweaked to accommodate for a decade of storylines & expansions that I had missed out on. I felt like a confused rookie and, lacking any way to process the lore in linear order, I became increasingly overwhelmed as I tried making sense of where the timeline was at and how that related to my quests. I’d walk into Stormwind Keep and get a cinematic about saving a character, but then gameplay resumed and the character was there instead of my questgiver. What???
This confirmed my fears: I had missed out when the content was new, so it was pointless to even try to catch up now. There is Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne and everything between that and the current MMO meta is basically lost.
Since then I have given up on “retail” World of Warcraft and found peace on my own private server. I never asked for Blizzard to completely overhaul the game I’d bought, so I feel no remorse about emulating a version of the game as it was when I bought it. Using bots and auto-balancing plugins, I’ve been able to experience the entirety of the content up to Wrath of the Lich King without having to rely on other players, without having to grind for gear to be accepted by guilds, and without having to rush through it all before the next patch or expansion hits.
The fear of having missed out may have scared me away from World of Warcraft, but it will never be able to touch me within the confines of my own servers.