Dustin Stevens vs. The World… of Warcraft (Day One)

19 07 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

9:00 p.m.—12:38am

Beard Status: Clean-Shaven

Personal Smell: Good

Character: Tarron (Level 1 Tauren Shaman)

 

After finishing my workday (and starting my week-long vacation) I joined the community of the world’s most popular MMO, World of Warcraft. Mrs. Stevens, cheerfully watching a self-made Veronica Mars marathon on Netflix, gave me one last warning not to become “one of those people” as I logged into my Battle.net account. This is actually the latest entry in a trend I’ve noticed—since I started telling my friends I was giving WoW a try, it’s almost been like I was announcing that I was experimenting with cocaine. Everyone told me that I’d end up broke and addicted, wearing leather pants and growing a mullet. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve played the game for almost four hours now, and only three of those four things have happened so far.

I’d already played around with the character editor early this week. WoW is a six-year old game, so don’t expect a modern character generator with the ability to tweak every detail of your avatar’s face, but the avatar editor gives you plenty of options for making a custom “you.” As of the Burning Crusade expansion pack (included in the World of Warcraft battlechest I bought for $40) you have two factions which five character races each. Each race can be male or female, and you have a handful of choices for face, hairstyle, skin color, and a couple of race-specific choices such as tusk or horn style. Since this character (and this column) were going public, I decided to wait a day or two before doing my usual RPG thing of making a female avatar based on whatever my fetish was that week. Strike One, MMO’s… making me self-conscious of the way I like to play games.

I messed around with the editor a good bit this week and am satisfied that you can make a character with just about any type of look you want. For my first character I chose a Tauren, a cow person, and chose the class of Shaman, a class that combines melee attacks with elemental and healing magic. As of this writing there are ten classes (note that not all races can learn all classes) and most of them sound like something I’d like to try out, although I’m not clear on the differences between, say, Warlock and Mage.

I tried to name my bovine hero “Taurus Bulba” (ten points to the first person to get that reference) but the name was already taken. Strike Two, MMO’s… making me be original. I tried to think of a few more puns but all those names were taken, too, so I settled on hitting the random name generator and went with Tarron.

A couple of clicks later I was officially a noob.

The game starts you off with a video of your home village, and a voice-over about your proud people or something… I’ve played way too many RPG’s lately and the “you are one of the blah blahs, a race that blah blahs in the fields of blah blah and battles the ever present threat of blah blah” has kind of grown thin. After that I was dropped into Camp Narache in Thunder Bluff. Another player spawned next to me but we didn’t exchange pleasantries. A third bull man in front of me (this one a non-playable character) either spotted me hiding in a box or had a quest for me.

This began what would become the theme of my evening—looking for people with explanation points over their heads and right-clicking them so that they’d ask me to go collect six widgets for me. Then the person’s exclamation point would turn into a question mark and I’d got right-click them again to collect some experience points and loot.

My first task was to find a woman by a well, get some water, and bring it back. Simple enough for an old RPG pro like me. I left the camp and headed south, engaging in my first fights against some Plainstriders, like ostrich-like things.

This led to one of my first surprises in the game—the controls work. I’ve never been a PC gamer (at least not since Duke Nukem 3D… that game was awesome), and the controls have always been one of the sticking points for me. But this game pulls it off. Simply use “WASD” to move your character around and your mouse does everything else. Sure, you can press “M” to bring up the map but a quick click does it just as well. And every button on your keyboard can be customized. Soon I was hurling lightning from my mighty hooves and smashing in faces with my even mightier mace. Fortunately, some of the Plainstriders were wearing pants or boots so I was able to loot their carcasses and start upgrading my character.

I’ve hit level 2! Only 78 to go. (Actually 68—as I understand it I can only get to level 70 unless I shell out for the Wrath of the Lich King expansion.) I pummeled a few more helpless birds, found the old lady, and brought her water back to the village. Success!

If you think that collecting water and bringing it back to someone sounds boring, WoW is definitely not for you. Aside from one pseudo-boss fight, all of my quests tonight involved bringing something to someone (and even after that boss I had to carry back his head). Most of these quests were to kill a certain number of something in and bring back their pelts, beaks, or Silly Bands to prove you’d done the deed.

But this is a Massively-Multiplayer Online game, right? Shouldn’t there be eleven million people running around and interacting with me? Well, I saw a few people. But at first no one interacted with me. I tried to help one dude kill some boars, but was wary of the response. Sure, if he hit them first, he’d get the experience points and loot, but what if I was stepping on his toes by crushing the boars’ necks? Would he get enraged and kill me, wearing my horns as a signal of his manliness (or cowiness)?

Turns out he pretty much ignored me.

This changed a bit when I went in search of Sharptusk, leader of the quilboars. Note that at this point I upgraded to killing thinking, feeling creatures, and started to build up my orphan-crafting abilities. I made it to Sharptusk’s tent without incident. But here was a problem: Sharptusk was the same level as me and he had a couple of buddies with him. I’d tangled with more than one enemy before, but each of those fights had been a close shave. I wasn’t sure I was up to handling the three of them on my own.

But help arrived! Well, someone arrived, anyway. As two other players with the same subtitle (or Clan name? I didn’t figure that out) entered the tent my American selfishness kicked in and I attacked Sharptusk, “tapping” him so that I’d get his XP and loot. The fight was over in about two seconds and I collected the head. I thought about saying “Thanks” but figured that’d be pretty douchey if the other Tauren were going for that head, so I left them to wait for the bad guy’s head to grow back.

Night was dawning over Red Cloud Mesa as I went back to the camp for my reward. I spotted the two guys from Sharptusk’s tent talking to my quest-giver. They weren’t typing obscenities at me so I took a chance and thanked them. Then something happened that brought a smile to my face and might be added to my top ten moments in gaming: One of them waved at me. I can’t say why, but this one wave was cooler than every conversation I’ve ever had over Xbox Live. Maybe it was because he didn’t call me a fag. I started to see the appeal of this whole MMO thing.

(I expressed this feeling to Mrs. Stevens, who proceeded to give me the face she usually reserves for when I’m already drunk when she gets home from work… at two in the afternoon. She really doesn’t want me to get hooked.)

Somewhere around this point I figured out that my back, which is closer to thirty than twenty, doesn’t like hunching over the coffee table. I leaned back on the couch with the laptop on my lap and my mouse on the cushion beside me and the game got much more comfortable.

 

All the quests from Camp Narache done, I headed north to Bloodhoof Village. Enemy difficulty ramped up as I got here, and led to my first death. Starting at this point, some enemies would attack me without provocation, and others would come to the aid of their allies, which was kind of cute. One plainstrider tried to run as I whittled down his life, but don’t worry; I still killed him and desecrated his corpse as punishment for his insolence. Being eviscerated by a particularly nasty creature sent me up ahead to the graveyard at Bloodhoof, where I was given the option to run back to my body (and ghosts can run on water, it turns out, just confirming that Jesus was a bull-shaman’s ghost) or respawning at the graveyard. My understanding is that there’s a penalty for respawning at the graveyard if you’re over Level 10.

I ran back to my body and was immediately killed again. Turns out you revive with about a third of your life and mana meters… right next to the bad guy who killed you. Brilliant.

I completed a few more quests (each of which was taking longer and longer) and gained a few more levels. I bought some more armor and acquired more loot. One bird killed me about three times, and just as I was about to kill him back, some dude helped me out. He apologized for stealing the kill, but I didn’t harbor any ill will. We chatted for a few moments before I went on. Another dude running past casted a protection spell on me. That was kind of nice.

Oh, and I started killing humans, so that’s fun.

Turns out I’m not quite ready to handle two or three enemies at once yet, but (as the game didn’t get three strikes tonight) I suppose I’ll try to pair up with somebody tomorrow.

This photo shows me at the end of my session tonight, a Level 7 Shaman. You’ll notice I’ve upgraded my weapons and armor considerably. You might also notice all the open quests I’m working on. God, it’s satisfying to watch those 0/5’s become 5/5’s and disappear from the list.

As I log out and go to bed, I can say with certainty that I’m beginning to get why this game is popular. About halfway through my gametime, as Mrs. Stevens went off to take a shower, I took out my headphones and mindless killed things on my lap while also watching some Dilbert cartoons on my TV. That’s kind of cool. I could see myself getting into this.

Just don’t tell my wife.

 

This article written for Crush! Frag! Destroy! Go there for your daily fix of game news, reviews, and more.

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