Why I love being a highwayman in vanilla WoW


In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. This week, Matt commits daylight robbery in World of Warcraft.

I liked to think of us as boogeymen. A tale Alliance mothers would tell wayward children to make them behave. “If you don’t finish your herb baked egg, Kreck and Kanhoji will drag you to Kalimdor!” The reality was so wonderfully disappointing it needs explanation. 

Kanhoji was my fourth attempt at a World of Warcraft character. My first was a Tauren Shaman called Ahanu. He didn’t like healing, so he died lots, and never left The Barrens. Then came a dwarf called Amundr, who I abandoned at level 40 because mail armour looked wrong on a hunter. Another dwarf followed—a warrior named Hrundi, who resembled Father Christmas in the wrong aspect ratio, and was exactly as shit as he sounds—before I finally found the character who defined WoW for me. 

Kanhoji was a gentleman rogue. I decided he was a retired cook from a pirate ship, the name of which I’m too preemptively embarrassed to recall*. His partner was Kreck, a hoary orc shaman and rough stone magnate, played by the only person I spoke to in WoW. Together, we were an underwhelming team—grey-haired, grumpy, with no aspirations beyond level 20. After months spent getting WoW wrong, we blundered into a combination that worked. 

Kreck was a tank and healer, with a fine line in fizzing thunderbolts. He was the general builder of our team. Kanhoji was a gas engineer—he only had one job, but everybody died if he fucked it up. Kreck kept Hoji alive. Hoji kept everyone else dead.

Everything changed when we hit level ten. It was a moment of pubescent transformation, except instead of discovering crywanking, we learned murdering Alliance players felt amazing. There was a venal thrill in seeing red letters appear on the horizon, knowing that it was time to fight or flee. We spent some time in Ashenvale, looking for elves to gut, but it was abandoned. We made the decision to cross the sea and find an area full of Alliance players to hunt. 

That place was Duskwood. Getting there was a pain. I’d stock up before we left, packing a lunch of blinding powder, poison and potions. We’d take the ship from Ratchet to Booty Bay—later the Zeppelin to Grom’gol—and sprint through Stranglethorn Vale, avoiding raptors and gorillas. It was worth it.

Instead of discovering crywanking, we learned murdering Alliance players felt amazing.

Once there, we’d slide into the gloom of the forest and wait. We never did dungeons, and never chased the best gear, so were cheerfully useless. The element of surprise was essential. I’d cloak myself and wait on the path, blackjack in hand (it was actually a pirate’s wooden leg). An Alliance player would come strolling by, I’d kosh them and frantically call to Kreck. ‘Here. HERE!’

Kreck would dogtrot out of the forest in wolf form, transform and start flinging thunderbolts. We’d use poison and totems to slow our prey. Once dead, we’d laugh, cheer and dance back into the woods, always watching for signs of high level players coming to the rescue. We had a code of sorts. Ganking grey players was forbidden. Our ideal prize was a player too tough to solo, but vulnerable to a roughly organised team. We were highwaymen. Rubbish, opportunist highwaymen.

Failing was almost as much fun. As a rogue, I had a series of annoying tools for escaping—blinding powder, vanishing dust and fleeing. There was always a moment when things were too frantic to type—we hadn’t discovered voice chat, and it was never the same once we did—and we were never sure if the other survived. Then, quietly, our victory anthem would pop up in party chat. A relieved and breathless version of ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam. 

But it couldn’t last. We eventually levelled up and the current of the game dragged away from Duskwood. We returned to Stranglethorn and Kreck took his revenge on the gorillas that chased us by monetising their flesh. He started an almost-successful leather business and become obsessed with auctioneering. Our gallant team disbanded. 

It was only during those ten levels in Duskwood that WoW met my expectations as a RPG. I’d modded WoW to make it more immersive, shitting out an exhaustive backstory for Amundr. That I thought strangers might stop to read my 400-word character bio is a testament to how little I understood the game. While I was writing stories, every player around me was racing to level 60. That’s why I loved being a highwayman. It was the only time WoW aligned with my imagination. It’s changed so much now I feel I’ll never go back, but when I think about the thrill of the ambush, the crack of the kosh, the blank panic of our Alliance victims, I’m tempted. 

*It was the Hellion Scythe. It doesn’t even make sense.