Outland as Endgame
Among my many weaknesses with my alts is my fondness for giving each character a theme of some sort, which I guess probably stems from my roleplayer roots. I love figuring out which title, mount, and now transmog set are appropriate for the personality of each of my toons. Sometimes the theme is simple and just corresponds with the character’s class – Tzufit, for example, generally wears the “Elder” title and can be seen riding around on her Raven Lord mount, because she’s a druid. My priest wears “the Argent Champion” after her name, my shaman is a Skyguard Ace with her nether ray mount and “Undying” title, and my warlock is still working her way toward becoming a full “Professor.”
Deciding what to do about my level 70 priest twink (a.k.a. #minipriest to you Twitter types), initially started out as a lot more of a challenge, though. There are only so many titles that are easily obtainable for a level 70, and I didn’t think that any of the options from the holiday achievements or – Elune forbid – “the Patient” made much sense for Thisby. Eventually, I settled on “of the Shattered Sun” for my priest, since certain PvP gurus had convinced me to grind Shattered Sun reputation to Exalted for the resilience helm enchant and for the alchemy trinket. But in all my research on profession choices, I realized something odd the moment Thisby set foot on Quel’danas to pick up her daily quests for the first time.
I had never done a single Shattered Sun daily on any character before.
These quests were completely new to me.
Even though I started playing WoW when the Burning Crusade was current content, I never got to do any of Outland’s endgame. I began playing in the spring before Wrath launched and very slowly made my way to 60 (on several different toons as I tried to find a class that I really enjoyed). The first time I ever saw Outland was on my birthday. I’d hit 58 maybe an hour before I had plans to join friends for a birthday dinner, but my RL friend who had introduced me to WoW insisted that I should see Outland and set my hearth in Shattrath before I left for the night.
Stepping through the Dark Portal for the first time was incredible. There wasn’t much color outside of the green forests in the Eastern Kingdoms and Kalimdor in those days, so zoning into a place as ridiculously bright as Hellfire Peninsula was a shock, to say the least. Beyond the overwhelming colors of the sky and the orange-iest orange ever conceived for the ground, stepping into Hellfire was incredibly disorienting. The way that the ground was torn apart and the strange angles of everything confused the hell out of me at first. I had a difficult time getting my bearings, so I followed my friend as closely as I could as he led us across the zone towards Zangarmarsh.
I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with a zone at first sight the way I did with Zangarmarsh. It was as if some Blizzard designer had gotten inside my head to the brain cells dedicated to ideal fantasy setting where you would TOTALLY LOVE TO LIVE IN REAL LIFE and turned it into this beautiful, interactive thing. I adored that Zangar was simultaneously eerie and dark, but also peaceful and calming … if you stayed away from the Naga and their steam pipes, of course. I adored the colors and the strange wildlife – the wasps and sporebats are still some of my favorite creatures in all of WoW. I instantly fell for the Sporelings when I saw them a few weeks later, though I’ve yet to work on their reputation on any of my characters. I was fascinated by the stories of the “Broken” draenei who had settled in this place, and I always make it a point to do those quests each time I level. Much later, when I discovered my love for all things druidy, I realized how much I enjoyed the quests that show you the work the Cenarion Expedition is doing to reclaim the marsh from the Naga who are destroying it.
Eventually, my friend managed to tear me away from Zangarmarsh so that we could continue on our journey to Shattrath. The city, with its glowing beacon of Light, homicidal elevators, and dilapidated tents of the Lower City was amazing enough. But then, I looked up. All around me people were flying.
At that time, there wasn’t nearly as much of a variety in flying mounts as there is today. The vast majority of the players I saw were on gryphons and wyvern, but even this was more impressive than I could have imagined. My friend finally dismounted the nightsaber he’d used to chaperone me to the city, and then hopped onto his Ebon Gryphon so I could see one up close. I told him that this was the coolest thing I’d seen so far in WoW, and that I wished someday we would be able to fly in Azeroth – even though we both knew that was ridiculous and would never happen …
Shattrath was also incredible to me because it was a Sanctuary – meaning I got to see all sorts of Horde players who before had only passed me by on the roads of Azeroth. Now I could see Tauren and Undead in full raid gear, wandering around the same Scryer rise that I was! I watched a Tauren jump off the edge of the rise and reappear a moment later as a huge brown bird. I asked my friend how exactly someone got to turn into a bird, but he didn’t know either. We had a vague idea that it might be a “druid thing,” but we weren’t certain.
Above all else, I couldn’t wrap my mind around seeing so many players in the same place. Before that night I’d mostly taken care of my city tasks in Ironforge, which always had a decent number of people there – but nothing like this. Everywhere I looked there were crowds of people, all busy doing something or going somewhere. I saw someone fly overhead on the beautiful Ashes of Al’ar mount that first night in Shattrath, and then a warlock on Midnight a few minutes later. (Seeing a warlock on an obviously demonic flying horse led to a lot of confusion and eventual heartbreak for me down the road. I assumed that my little gnome warlock would be getting her own flying fiery vampire horse someday – clearly Midnight was the warlock’s class-specific flying mount, right? I just had to find the questline that would start it, right?! Imagine how crushed I was.)
Now, 4 years since the release of the Sunwell patch that marked both the winding down of the BC era and the beginning of my time in WoW, I find that my minipriest has found her way home to Shattrath once more. Although the city may be deserted compared to how it was on my first night there, it is still as interesting to me as ever. I’ve done some of the quests for the Aldor, Scryers, and the Lower City on other characters, though I can’t say I was really paying much attention before. On my priest, I’ve found that I’m actually taking a moment to read the quest text again and to learn all of the complexities of the political disputes going on in Shattrath – and it’s an awesome story.
Twinking, or more specifically locking my priest’s XP as a part of the experience of twinking, has given me this opportunity to slow down and appreciate a giant part of WoW that is practically unknown to me. When Cynwise advocated “iterative twinking” in a recent post, he pointed out that level 70 twinks spend a lot of time doing things (such as grinding SSO rep) that would serve no practical purpose for a max-level toon, but – at 70 – serve to make your twink the best twink she can be. Locking a character’s XP, Cyn says, is something like preserving that toon in a time capsule at the absolute height of badassery, and the cool thing about not gaining XP is that you character can remain the baddest badass for as long as you choose.
This, I’ll admit, is a huge part of the appeal of twinking for me. It’s always rewarding to feel that a character is “done” in terms of gear progression, and to know that I’ve mostly turned myself into one of those “irritating” and “unkillable” healers Cynwise mentions. Battlegrounds are an entirely different experience in the locked 70 bracket – people actually have the gear they need and know the strategies of each field. I can’t pretend you won’t see a troll in your BG chat every once in a while, but in general the bracket is much more civil and focused than any others I’ve played in – and for obvious reasons. When you zone into Alterac Valley, there is almost never a call to “rush Drek,” and instead you will find a group of players who understand the importance of back-capping, defense, and who know that “turtle” isn’t a dirty word. Playing in this bracket has made me understand the rules of the battlegrounds much better than I did before, and has made me a better PvP healer because of it. When you remove the distractions of horrible language in BG chat and players who have difficulty understanding how to communicate as a team within a PvP environment, it’s funny how quickly you can chart your personal progress.
But aside from feeling like a badass on Thisby when I PvP, I’m enjoying the decision to keep her at 70 because it’s giving me so many opportunities to catch up on everything I missed. I didn’t raid when BC was current content – I never even ran a heroic dungeon in Outland. My warlock hit 70 on the shores of Borean Tundra the day that Wrath launched and I never looked back. Why would I? WoW’s entire design, especially post-Cataclysm (see the recent Scroll of Resurrection rewards for additional proof), is to keep you moving forward at a breakneck pace, hurrying through the Old World content so you can join your level 85 friends as quickly as possible. The majority of my alting experiences prior to Thisby followed that same process – hurry my way to 85 only to have a maxed, geared alt that sits around with nothing to do.
I have so much to look forward to with my 70 twink (soon to be twinks, as I have a holy paladin who is only days away from hitting 70 as well, and a mage who is to be my next project). I cannot wait until Battle IDs are released so that I can enjoy not only cross-realm PvP, but also cross-realm raiding with other people who enjoy the level 70 content as much as I do. I never got to raid in Outland when the content was current, and this is my chance. While I know the experience can never duplicate what it was like to actually raid during BC, for me these raids are new content. Until a few months ago, I’d never done a BC heroic except to fly through it for achievements or faction reputation on a maxed character – now my priest heals a full group of at-level players in BC heroics a few times a week. I have never completed all of the Outland quests (particularly those in Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley) on any character, but now I have an excuse to take as much time as I want with them – and that’s a really good thing, since I happen to have plenty of in-game time on my hands right now.
Final raid tiers, I’d argue, are always difficult on raiders because we end up spending a lot of time doing the same things in the same place. (This is, perhaps, even more of an issue with Dragon Soul because all of the environments in the raid are places we’d already seen prior to this patch – but that’s another post for another day.) In the interest of keeping my sanity and still wanting to participate in a pastime I enjoy, I’m thrilled to have found a new project that will keep me busy until Mists is released – and after.
In the doldrums of Cataclysm’s end, exploring Outland has given me a sense of excitement that I haven’t felt about WoW in a while now. Thisby has given me a chance to return to Outland – not as a place to be hurried through on my way to greater things, but as a remarkable experience in-and-of-itself.