It’s the winter of 2010 and World of Warcraft’s Cataclysm expansion has just been released. After years of resisting I finally decide to try Blizzard’s MMO, and like many before me I fall hopelessly under its spell. I play it every evening for hours, amazed by the scale, hooked on the grind. Then I just stop. Perhaps another game came along or I just got bored, but the obsession mysteriously fades away, my subscription expires, and I leave Azeroth behind.
Over the years I’m occasionally overcome with a powerful desire to return. I reminisce about the winter of exploring and adventuring I shared with my troll hunter. I get pathetically misty-eyed about the day I finally hit level 20 and unlocked my first mount. Such speed! But as strong as this nostalgia is, it’s never quite enough to make me reinstall—until now. The Legion expansion was released in August 2016, and after reading a lot of positive things about it, including our own 90 percent review, I fold and decide to dive back in.
I load the game to see my blue-skinned troll grinning on the character select screen, exactly how I left him. It’s like reuniting with an old friend. But because Blizzard updated the character models for most of the races in 2014, he looks slightly more handsome. I enter the game and find myself in a goblin village nestled among the snowy forests of Winterspring. Then suddenly I have a vivid memory of the precise moment I decided to stop playing this game.
In a day I’d quested through the entirety of Ashenvale, Azshara, and Felwood, fuelled by a revolting diet of caffeine and pizza, the very embodiment of the tabloid image of a gamer. A shameful practice former PC Gamer writer Owen Jones and I christened "poopsocking" after the urban legend of MMO gamers shitting into socks to avoid leaving their desks. But I must stress that we never, ever did that. Well, I didn’t anyway.
As the sun rose and I arrived in Winterspring, I just couldn’t go on. I was consumed by the guilt of devoting an entire day of the only life I’ll ever have to an MMO. I’d devoured the whole gateau instead of just enjoying a slice, and I regretted it deeply. Bloated and ashamed, I shut my PC down, slumped to bed, and vowed never to return.
Here I am, seven years later, falling off the wagon. I go through my hunter’s abilities, but feel like I’m trying to decipher an ancient Sumerian tablet. I’ve forgotten how to play the game.
Time for a clean slate. Legion’s new quests are supposed to be some of the best in the game, so I create a demon hunter and go through the starting area. It’s incredibly dramatic, with big battles and stirring orchestral music. But as much as I’m enjoying it, it’s not really the game I remember. It’s too exciting.
So I roll a new character, a tauren druid, and start from level one. And as I run around Thunder Bluff performing menial tasks for giant bipedal cows, I feel at home. This is the World of Warcraft I remember. Those serene, slow-paced early hours where you have no worries and only a handful of abilities in your action bar. I’ll return to my demon hunter later, but for now this is a more easygoing way to reacquaint myself with the game. I don’t know how long I’ll stick with it, but it’s good to be back in Azeroth, even if it is just blinkered nostalgia.