This weekend the World of Warcraft servers were overrun by enthusiastic idiots. I know this, because I was one of them. My fellow scrubs and I had been lured to Azeroth by Lady LiadrIn, a female blood elf. More specifically, by an offer from Blizzard’s marketing team that if we levelled any character past 20, we would be rewarded with LiadrIn as a swanky alternate hero for the Paladin class in Hearthstone. These things are fully animated and usually go for $9.99/£6.99, so it seemed like a decent deal. Particularly as I was looking for something easy to play over the post-GDC comedown weekend.
I’d already seen a few posts on the Hearthstone subreddit which suggested the levelling could be done in two-three hours. Before we get into how long it actually took, a little background. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Hearthstone, but until now had never set foot in WoW. Beyond a torrid affair with Phantasy Star Online in the early oughts, I’ve never been much of an MMORPGer, but I understand the genre conventions so figured it should be fine.
The grind began just after noon on Saturday. I picked a lady night elf hunter, on the basis that the class is supposed to be easy to operate and the starting area, the forest of Shadowglen, is pretty (in a gaudy, low-poly sort of way). “Literally everyone picks a sexy elf the first time,” said my other half, not bothering to hide her disdain. She has several decent-level WoW characters and had begrudgingly agreed to keep me company. Except she couldn’t actually, because they live on different servers and there was some sort of migration fee to move them. So instead she created her own elf and we got to it.
My character was named PollyJane, for no better reason than I was listening to the new PJ Harvey single (which is excellent) while customising her. I was initially heartened by hitting level three before even finishing the first quest, which was to kill six nightsabers. However, the process was slightly slowed by the fact Shadowglen had been overrun with other sexy elves, all trying to kill nightsabers, and unless you landed the final blow it didn’t register for the quest. Nonetheless, we were up and running.
Coming to WoW from Hearthstone, one of the things that was immediately fun was stumbling across familiar characters from the cards and, even more so, hearing audio samples shared between the games. When I attacked a camp of grellkin I immediately registered their cackle-gurgle sound effect as being the same one used for Hearthstone’s Imp-losion spell. I opted to avoid them in future as it was too triggering after all the times Zoo players have rolled four imps against me.
I made it to level four about half an hour in, having successfully collected enough Fel Moss for someone called Melithir who rewarded me with a new bag. At that point I realised I hadn’t done any inventory management and spent some time putting slightly better gloves on. I was getting into the groove of hoovering up quests and handing them in en masse, but I was also starting to run into frustrations. And when I say run, I mean trudge. I guess there are ways to improve your movement later on (mounts, etc), but having to schlep slowly from point to point to hand in everything felt like unnecessary drudgery. Why can’t we just complete quests as soon as we’ve ticked their requirements? Or, how about a sprint button in 2016?
I get that these complaints will be dismissed as just WoW being WoW, but if the aim of promotions like this is to help with “on-boarding” new players, then it feels worthwhile to point out what’s not fun. And to that I can add the map system. At one stage I was trying to find the entrance to a cave system and ended up walking around the same mountain range multiple times. It was like the time I got lost outside the LA Convention Center during E3 and furiously circled it twice trying to find the correct entrance.
Tarindrella led to me googling the difference between dryads and centaurs. A weekend well spent.
I cheered up once inside the cave, (barrow, actually), because there I met Tarindella the dryad. Her audio is shared with the Grove Tender card in Hearthstone, and as I main Druid it was like bumping into an old friend. A friend who happened to have a horse’s lower body. Inside the cave there were a lot of spiders to kill, culminating with a big one called Githyiss the Vile. Unfortunately a lot of the other Hearthstone noobs were doing the same mission, so Githyiss kept getting instakilled as he spawned. “That’s just Warcraft,” said my other half, unhelpfully.
A similar problem occurred on a later quest. Here we had to kill grellkin by tossing down magical seeds which sprouted crushing roots. Unfortunately, many players were in such a rush to power level that they hadn’t read the description properly and were just murdering the grellkin with conventional weapons and getting annoyed that it wasn’t registering. Not me though, I’ve got book smarts so completed the quest and earned some new britches. “You’ll be crafting your own britches eventually,” said my other half. I secretly suspected that this was a brave dawn neither of us would see.
By now I was over an hour in and ready to leave the starter area. My first sight upon leaving Shadowglen was a level 100 Ancient Protector—a giant walking tree that looked undeniably cool stomping around the forest. I continued to do routine fetch quests for forever—nightsaber fangs! Strigid owl feathers! Spider silk!—until I hit level seven and decided to take the actual dog for a walk. We were already two hours in by then, and had only reached level seven. I was starting to think Reddit might have lied to me.
Upon returning I spent more time killing gnarlpines and getting even grumpier with the map. When you’re in an underground system it doesn’t indicate clearly whether you’re objective is above or below you, leading to angry backtracking. My other half gave up to read a book so I started listening to podcasts. I opted for The Black Tapes, which is a ridiculous but fun riff on what Serial might be like if it covered supernatural stories. Having a distraction that isn’t the MMO seems essential to successfully enjoying the MMO. Eventually I found myself in Darnassus, capital city of the night elves, which was pretty. Having harvested all the quests from the current area, I took a hippogriff ride to Darkshore, ending the night at level 14 having sunk about five hours in.
The next day began with good intentions, but I soon found my heart wasn’t in it. “It”, in this instance being patrolling the beaches looking for various flavour of Murloc to kill in order to meet quotas. To remind myself what I was fighting for I put the Hearthstone Europe Winter Championship on the second screen and watched a great Control Warrior mirror match in which both players got to drop the Golden Monkey. All this did was make me wish I was playing Hearthstone.
Luckily my other half’s addiction had fully flared up, and she offered to finish the levelling off. (Possibly in contravention of Blizzard ToS, we shall see.) Her familiarity with WoW combined with a working sense of direction meant she was able to bang out 15-20 much faster than I would have. However, she noted that one quest was impossible thanks to my noob brethren. It involved sneaking up on Thistle Bears, but again most players hadn’t read the text so were just barreling up to the animals and killing them. Some exasperated higher level players even tried to explain the quest using chat, but to no avail. If you were playing WoW for the first time this weekend, and not part of the great free portrait rush, I can only apologise.
The level 20 notification finally popped mid-afternoon, and with that our journey ended after about seven or eight hours. The portrait arrived immediately, and I was pleased with it—especially as the emotes are ripe for next level BM. But was is it a good scheme for getting WoW virgins into the game? Not so sure. At a couple of points I felt like I was enjoying myself, and it was cool seeing the lore I’ve only experienced through Hearthstone in its original setting.
But at the same time my brief taste only confirmed a lot of what I’d heard about WoW. It’s super grindy and wed to systems that probably should have overhauled a long time ago. That they haven’t been is, of course, testament to WoW’s insane longevity as the doyen of subscription-based MMOs. But I think I’ll be sticking with its spinoff for the foreseeable future. The gnarlpines can roam free, without fear of my spammed arcane shot. As for my other half, she's reactivating her subscription tonight. Well played, Blizzard.