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World of Warcraft has grown up with its fanbase

The game has evolved from its timesink days

Blizzard Entertainment
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

There’s a lot to be impressed with in the new World of Warcraft expansion, from the tools the game uses to tell stories to the colorful character models and environments. As someone who’s been playing the game on and off since 2004, the biggest takeaway I have is that, with Battle of Azeroth, it’s finally become something I feel comfortable playing as an adult — a game that now respects my time, instead of consumes it.

When I was in high school, I was all too happy to burn hours away playing World of Warcraft. I’d swing into a zone, pick up 14 quests, and then set up the perfect route to complete all of them in one swing. I’d check the guild bank and see we were low on a crucial supply to make buffs for raid night and go ahead and take care of that. The game did more than just indulge my time-wasting tendencies; it demanded players spend this time in order to advance.

Sure, someone could just not gather those minerals and herbs ... if they never wanted to get past Ragnaros. Or someone could log off in the middle of a quest run, but the sheer quantity of quests the game threw at you alongside the disconnected plots in a region (and the less ambitious writing) meant that you’d forget what your character was even doing there. These were pretty serious flaws, but at the time, I had the hours and willpower needed to bandage over all of that and have fun anyways.

Now I’m older, and I have shopping lists, phone calls from parents and jobs to juggle. The game’s adapted; Battle for Azeroth’s leveling experience feels like two linear, single-player RPGs. You’re still part of your greater faction, and there’s little to do in the way of choices or dialogues, but the experience has been ironed out. Battle for Azeroth rewards short play sessions and smaller amounts of investment perfectly. The game leads you about with a string of breadcrumbs, taking you through a story with contained chapters. If I can only play for an hour, then I can complete two chapters in that hour. I get to see neat little stories be set up, conclude, get some gear and then log off.

Blizzard Entertainment

I haven’t had a chance to even scratch the surface of the end game — mission halls, war fronts, island expeditions — but I don’t feel pressure. I’m perfectly comfortable rolling at my own pace, and the new social infrastructure of the game makes it easier to find people who won’t rush me along. I get the satisfaction of knowing I have dozens of hours of content ahead, but I don’t need to rush to get there first. I can stop and smell the roses.

Even the way the game handles PvP now is much better suited to my schedule, what with my bones crumbling to dust and my twitch reflexes not being what they used to be. Every server now allows players to opt out of PvP at any time; you can just focus on questing and seeing your numbers go up. If you want to, you can opt into War Mode, which turns on PvP, gives you more experience points, new talents and the ability to track down other players. As a fan of Sea of Thieves and a long-time veteran of the Horde versus Alliance back and forth gank wars, this is a blast. I get to opt-in to fun encounters with another player and the game gives me the tools to deal with them — it’s an effective way to build little, memorable high points. Going through a structured quest is fine, but if I want to add a little controlled chaos to the mix or go hunt down another player, the game lets me do that.

In short, you have all of the tools you need to log on for an hour here and an hour there and just have fun. Of course the game won’t compare to an in-depth, massive RPG like Dragon Age or The Witcher, but that’s part of the charm. World of Warcraft has always been closer to a popcorn film or a pulp novel than high art, and Blizzard Entertainment is most successful when it leans into the silliness.

Blizzard Entertainment

My one regret is that World of Warcraft expects me to look outside the game for so much lore. Players who are aggressively on auto-pilot may find themselves asking questions and getting lost.

Still, it certainly helps that Battle for Azeroth takes players out of space and puts them in new, more humble frontiers. In trying to gain the trust of the Kul Tiran people, I’m working through some short stories in Tiragarde Sound, and the highlights have included getting to the bottom of a mystery surrounding a logging company under siege and using a lord’s prized steed to protect his estate from invading forces. After the dizzying heights of Legion, where the game asked me to grapple with questions like “Should Illidan Stormrage have given up his agency and sacrificed his free will to allow Xe’ra the Naaru to forcibly bind him to the Light?” it’s fun to go back to the series’ roots. We’re back to concrete concerns, like supply lines and building navies and dealing with malicious political advisers.

Will I ever go back to my younger habits of sinking days and weeks into World of Warcraft? No, I don’t have to anymore. I can see the raid content through a convenient in-game menu and a couple of hours of time; I don’t have to gear up and coordinate with 24 other players to work through a raid. I don’t have to spend hours in Felwood farming herbs for a resistance elixir anymore. I’ve grown up, and so has World of Warcraft. There’ll always be a young-feeling perspective to the tales the game spins of helpful dinosaur gods, undead advisors unleashing plagues and midnight jailbreaks, but despite the continued adherence to the rule of cool, World of Warcraft feels like it understands me better than most games out there. If I ever need to unwind and decompress for an hour, Azeroth has become one of the most appealing places to go.