This week, Zero Punctuation reviews World of Warcraft: Cataclysm.
Like a drunken concert-goer guffawingly yelling for Freebird, a video on World of Warcraft has oft been requested of me. And like the struggling guitarist upraising a hilarious middle finger while making a mental note to attempt suicide later in the evening, I have resisted. How exactly does one review an entity like World of Warcraft? Do you go by its entertainment value as a game or its fucking body count? 'Cause factoring in lost man-hours and all those dead, neglected children, it's got to be roughly up there with a fairly major natural disaster.
But the release of the Cataclysm expansion seems like an obvious time for a retrospective, in that I firmly believe it is the reason absolutely fuck-all else came out in December. Actually, that's not true; there was Tron: Evolution and Mario All-Stars. Oh, well! Do they know it's Christmas time?! So, World of Warcraft, also known as WoW, as in "wow, I can't believe it's been that long since I last had a wash."
Over the Christmas period, I decided to use my annual small injection of free time to level a character as far as I could. And you little motherfuckers better appreciate this, because hanging yourself on Christmas day is slightly less depressing than spending it playing World of Warcraft. My original intention was to use the time to get up to level 85 and see all the areas, and maybe for an encore I could eat an entire mahogany dining table. In the end, I could only make it to 60, but that would do. That was high enough to acquire a flying mount so I could fly over low-level Alliance areas and blow raspberries.
Because what kind of loser plays Alliance? Honestly. Since the Blood Elves joined the Horde, they don't even have the excuse of having the hottest chicks anymore. In theory, anyway - I've always thought it a bit odd that the male orcs, trolls, and undead are all hunched, twisted monsters and the females are all basically just discoloured human hotties with bad dentistry. I mean, come on, trolls have tits? Do they breastfeed their kids while their tusks are coming out? They'd gouge out their fucking lungs!
I may have given some subtle hints in the past that I've played WoW before. Subtle hints such as an entire fucking book published by Dark Horse available on Amazon. Buy now, beat the rush. Way before all your newfangled Burning Crotchsades and Wraths of the Bitch Queen, I leveled an undead mage up to level 58 in vanilla, caffeine-free World of Warcraft over the course of about three months, during which I was about as productive as a dead dog nailed to an armchair. So now will be a good time to see how many changes have occurred.
Quite a few. You'd almost think there'd been a cataclysm of some description: there's a jungle in South Barrens that wasn't there before; the Thousand Needles appear to have pissed themselves; and, lest we forget, there are two new races to play as: goblins - hauntingly reminiscent of the Ferengi from Star Trek (right down to the huge ears, but then what doesn't have huge ears in this fucking game?) are technocratic profiteers who get to start off driving rocket cars around a steampunk funland, while the worgen are big, hairy cockneys who get to run around one of World of Warcraft 's 93 forests. Honestly, fuck the Alliance.
So I set off as a goblin mage, because I was a mage before, and it's a good class for soloists. Half your spells are for destroying people from the next town over and the other half are for apologizing and running away. There've been a lot of changes to mage spells. You no longer have to buy the latest models every few levels like they're developed by Apple, and there's a new spell you get around level 50 called "Mirror Image " which might as well be called "Reap On, Ye Fucking Reaper Man". It spawns three copies of you that all do magic, and enemies always attack them instead of you. With this armament, I could embark on elite quests intended for parties of three and fashion the boss monsters into stylish clogs.
That possible balance issue aside, I do think WoW is a well-designed game. It wouldn't have systematically murdered all its competitors otherwise. The colourful, cartoonish visual style has aged quite well, and Cataclysm brought further improvement by removing a lot of the piss-taking quests that ask you to gather 20 of something that are only dropped by one bloke three percent of the time and replacing them with quests where you ride around in a van solving mysteries.
Having said all that, World of Warcraft is completely evil.
Let me tell you a story. I like how the fast-travel network has you ride flying monsters between destinations; it helps the world open up somewhat and makes me feel like I'm in The Neverending Story, and it also means I can Alt-Tab out and have a quick jerk-off if I get bored. But on one occasion, when I Alt-Tabbed back the land was wreathed in flames and I'd recieved an achievement for being killed by Deathwing, who is apparently some bigshot around these parts. Whereupon my guild mates congratulated me, and that's what struck me as odd. Were they perhaps saying "wow, you just got murdered in a way that breaks up the monotony of our utterly pointless existence! You're so lucky." But then I caught the two-faced bastards congratulating someone in the same way for getting one of those Baby's First Achievements - you know, complete three quests without falling off a chair and breaking your spine - and I realized that typing "grats" upon seeing the word "achievement" is just another programmed response, because that's what WoW does: it programs you.
After just a few weeks, the vibrant swoosh of the level-up sound was as fulfilling to me as my child's first word. I wasn't even reading the quest descriptions anymore. Last time I stopped playing because there were no more lands to see. This time I stopped because, as I flew higher and higher on my new mounts and could see to the edge of the shitty draw distance, I saw the last few weeks of my life unfold beneath me: go here, keep running around killing the palette swaps du jour until they give you a permission slip for the next valley of palette swaps. I got out while I still could, and anyone who wants to bring up endgame content can feel free to suck an Orc's willy.
I asked someone who raids, "why do you raid?" "To get the best items," they said. "What do you use the best items for?" I asked, to which they could only answer, "to raid with!" But it's not about items, is it? You don't honestly care if your new crystal nethersword is going to clash with your elite boss clogs. It's about the numbers. You want the items with the best numbers so you can use your numbers to decrease the enemy numbers until your numbers are the best in the land and all the other guilds flock to regard your numbers with jealous awe. And before you argue that lots of games are about numbers when you get down to it, no one ever ruined their lives to get 100% items in Super Metroid!
Don't even ask how he ended up in a guild: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Although I did once ruin my life to find all the diamonds in Magicland Dizzy
Mogworld 's still got an average Amazon user review of 4.5 stars y'know