July 2009 was the first time in almost 4 years my WoW subscription lapsed. I had already informally withdrawn from raiding, having seen the inside of Ulduar only once since its launch. I still remember my last moments online: finishing Argent Tournament dailies for the 100th time already. Feeling no more love for the game, I mounted my beloved Time-Lost Proto Drake and logged out right there, on the Argent Tournament grounds, never intending to return.
In that moment, hundreds of hours of battlegrounds, end-game raids, grinding mats, professions, mounts, reputation, achievements, felt like they didn’t matter anymore. My troll priest was taking her place in the sky with the thousands of other retired toons. I didn’t think about my friends, or my guild. I just left, without a word. Life went on.
Fast-forward to 2015:
In the 6 years I was gone, I graduated college, started my career, moved cities, traveled around, learned new skills, everything. In some ways I’m a completely different person than July of 2009. In other ways I’m not. Enter September 2015, when some (new) friends started talking about WoW again. I couldn’t stop thinking about coming back to the game. I weighed the pros and cons. I looked up the new mounts. I talked to those friends about it. I talked about faction-changing my priest. I dragged my feet for a month, but come October, I picked up my copy of Warlords of Draenor and revived my account. Hellfire Citadel had been out for a few months at this point.
I booted up my 5-year old 13” Macbook Pro and waited for the painfully slow installation with nail-biting anticipation. Even though I had to run the game on the lowest settings possible and had only 13” of screen real estate, I went from zero to addict again in a matter of hours. I logged onto my priest to have a look around, quickly discovering I was the only member left of my once-great guild. In a way, this was closure. I could safely abandon my old character and my old server and never be missed. Then, I went to my new home - the server my friends were playing on. I did something downright heretical: I rolled Alliance.
Without doing any research, I jumped headfirst into my once-favorite class: paladin. My draenei was lovingly crafted. Each horn, hair, and color option was painfully poured over. I agonized over her name choice, my first pick being taken. She even had a backstory, though I don’t RP. Finally, I hit the character boost button and entered the World with my new main, my ambassador to the Alliance side. The Tanaan jungle intro was incredibly helpful in rehabilitating my long-atrophied WoW muscles. Frankly, I was quite impressed with the whole thing. This would be my first scenario-type experience, and it certainly was something. Being introduced to the Warlords one by one, seeing Grom Flipping Hellscream in the flesh? Sign me right up! By the time I finally planted my flag and built my garrison, I was more than hooked. Thanks to easing me into my abilities, new and old, I felt competent enough to go kill a few bad guys.
I definitely was able to kill the monsters, but to say I felt lost was an understatement. I had missed the end of one expansion, the entirety of two expansions, and the beginning of Warlords. Honestly, I felt like I was playing an entirely new game. And I was. So many things we take for granted were completely foreign to me.
- AoE looting
- Account-wide pets and mounts
- Dungeon finder/LFR
- Dual-specs (now even swapping freely between all specs)
- Talent tree changes
- Personal loot
- Reagent bank
- Void Storage
- Pet battles
- Cross-realm zoning
My first foray into a dungeon was Iron Docks, where everyone sped through so quickly I couldn’t even stop and smell the roses. I vividly remember accidentally jumping into an Iron Star and failing to kill any ogron (let’s blame lag okay?) and being yelled at by the tank. Ouch. Personal loot definitely threw me for a loop. At one point I was convinced someone just picked up that trinket I needed without even seeing a roll. Luckily I asked a friend before even saying anything, and she kindly explained personal loot to me.
Within the week, I was level 100. I took my time on what to do next, preferring to get comfortable with traveling around the new world, exploring things I’d missed and visiting old locales. My first weekend as a 100 happened to be Burning Crusade timewalking, and I had spent most of my WoW career in the Burning Crusade expansion, so the familiarity was a bonus. By this time my friends had invited me to their guild. I felt awkward at first, but warmed up rapidly. Little by little I was rebuilding what WoW meant to me.
As soon as I figured out how to get back to Outland, I started up my Heroic Sethekk Halls farming. Anzu’s mount had eluded me for years, so of course I was going to fight him every day until I claimed what was rightfully mine (Spoiler: it took over 300 kills for me to get the darn thing. This is a rant all on its own. Mounts I got before Anzu: Invincible, Onyxian Drake, Flametalon, Zulian Panther, Razzashi Raptor, Time-lost Proto Drake, you get the idea. -ahem-).
In the next few weeks I discovered Tanaan jungle’s end-game zone, earned my Draenor flying, and quickly realized my two friends were feeling done with Warlords, letting their own subscriptions lapse. When I bought Warlords, I decided I wouldn’t go back to my hardcore raiding style that turned the game from a hobby into a job. Well, about a month and a half into my return, I finally stepped into a raid. Normal Hellfire had gone really well, so I thought I’d join in for Heroic, too.
I sucked, to put it bluntly. We spent hours wiping to Iron Reaver. I died every pull. My DPS was horrendous. Eventually I had to step out, and spent the next few days nursing my wounded ego. I was angry at myself, and then upset that this game had already consumed my life again and I wasn’t any good at it. After taking time to calm down, I put together a plan to “tune-up” my paladin, more or less. I started my ring quest, fixed my stat allocations, dropped all my gold on an inscription trinket, upgraded my crafted weapon to the maximum, farmed valor like crazy, poured over combat logs, and read paladin guides until my eyes bled. A couple of weeks later I stepped back in for an upper normal run, managing to grab my two-piece tier set. This time I was pulling my weight, doing my job, and even parsing well. People asked me for help. I was establishing myself in this guild without my friends, and that felt great.
My guild is casual. We won’t ever be top-tier raiders. We’ve only cleared Heroic this expansion. Mythic is out of the question, but that doesn’t mean I don’t throw myself into learning the ins and outs of my class and boss fights. These days I qualify myself as “too hardcore to be casual and too casual to be hardcore”. But, I like the people here. Some nights the hours of wipes and trying to carry half the raid are exhausting and frustrating. But sometimes we have players like me: just shaking the rust off, needing a little time (or a lot of time) and experience (and gear) before they can shine.
At some point early on, I in-game visited my oldest and closest WoW friend on Horde-side. Sure, talking on bnet is one thing, but actually putting our characters side-by-side one more time was surreal. He was playing the same character he rolled a decade ago, albeit a few race swaps and gender-flips later. As he showed off his impressive mount collection latent feelings rushed back. For years I had been repressing and understating how important this game had been in my formative years. It felt shameful, even. But as my level 70 blood elf paladin stood face-to-face with this druid I had known since the first month I started playing this game, and the memories of late nights, tough grinds, and ventrilo shenanigans came back. And yes, I will admit I felt tears welling up and a slight lump in my throat. Yes, you can laugh at me. This person was the last remnant of my old group. The connection to 2005-2009. Everyone else had moved on and away to other things. Eventually, my old druid friend decided to roll a toon and level up on my server to hang out with me. He raids with us on Alliance as his schedule allows. It’s like old times again. Different faction, different raids, but same feeling.
I’m about ten months into my WoW restart, and everything has changed. Legion is on the horizon and Warlords will be laid to rest. 7.0 has dropped and I’m back to relearning (and unlearning) everything I thought I knew about my class. This is not the same world I logged out of in July of 2009, and not all changes are for the better, but it’s never going back to the way it was. Those times are gone, that content is irrelevant, and most of those friends are gone for good. And yet, this game still gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. I see my effort pay off as my numbers get better, my mechanics tighten up, achievement points pile up and mount count accumulates. There is something about WoW that sets it apart from any other MMO, or any other game at all, for that matter. So I’ll keep playing. I’ll keep exploring. I’ll keep killing those internet dragons.
Have you taken a long break from WoW? Why? And why did you come back? (if you have come back)