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Exploring Virtual Worlds (Lich King Chronicles I): Preparations for Northrend

Thirteen hours after Wrath of the Lich King hit store shelves worldwide, World of Warcraft celebrated its first “evel 80. ” Well, almost. With his hand-picked, number crunching crew, French player “Athene,” the self-described “best Paladin in the world,” exploited the game’s leveling system to land a character at level 79. Minutes before hitting 80, the sleep-deprived team’s members ran into a game master–one of WoW’s equivalents to America’s boys in blue–who immediately announced their suspension for exploiting game mechanics. Seconds later, and after over half a day of playing nonstop, the marathoners found themselves back at the login screen, unable to play. “We owned the game, but Blizzard owned us,”  their leader observed in a post-own video.

As Athene notes on his blog, there’s nothing he can do about it. Like every other addict enslaved by WoWcrack, he agreed to the game’s terms of service. “You don’t possess anything,” he says. “Everything you achieve in the game is just pixels. If Blizzard want to ban you, they don’t need a reason.”

Only 14 hours after Blizzard dropped the hammer on the Frenchmen, the game saw its first “legitimate” 80.  Like Athene,  Nymh–another European player on the Drek’thar server–mob-tagged the same groups of enemies for hours, but, for reasons known only to Blizzard, retained his or her “world-first achievement.”

For me, World of Warcraft has always served as a facilitator for social experiences, mainly during the lengthy journey to the level cap. Unlike some of my wacky brethren across the pond, I don’t use a Cocaine (the energy drink) IV drip, nor do I  make a habit of pursuing endgame content after four sleepless days as my Dranei Shaman, “Coyotegrey.” In fact, when I last left the world of Azeroth, my silver-haired “blueberry” was thwarting the Dark Iron Dwarves for the Valiance Expedition in the Grizzly Hills at a nice, comfortable level of 71¾. He would’ve been higher, but my desire to explore new zones and, as always, act as the Horde’s punching bag impeded level progression. Oh well.

Casual hardcore stance notwithstanding, even before I took a boat from Menethil Harbor to the continent of Northrend, I had to log in and face my greatest enemy: a server queue.
As Arthas awaits my character’s eventual arrival, I await an end to server queues.

At 9:00 p.m. on the night of the game’s release, I entered my account name and password at the login screen and selected my server Bleeding Hollow. For the first time since the 2007 release of the Burning Crusade expansion, I encountered a message that said I’d have to wait in line. According to the ticker, I wouldn’t be able to  play for another 15 minutes. On the left side of the screen, in the news section, Blizzard said I could expedite matters by transferring to a newly-created server, gratis. Knowing a new world means fewer people to gank or quest with; I chose to wait.

Even though I didn’t get to log in until 9:35 PM, the delay didn’t bnother me nearly as much as it did some players. I can always read or watch something in the interim. Besides, after half an hour, what’s an extra few minutes?

After briefly toying with the idea of creating a Death Knight, I finally entered Lich King as my usual Shaman at 9:42 PM. Upon arriving at the Human capital of Stormwind, I received an urgent message from my inner obsessive-compulsive: I hadn’t yet organized my inventory in preparation for the impending journey. Fifteen minutes after doing so, I finished playing Clean House and took a ride on a gryphon to Menethil Harbor. There, a boat would take me to the Howling Fjord, one of two starting areas in Northrend.


The in-game map of Howling Fjord.

Waiting for the boat afforded the opportunity to level up my only profession below 150:  fishing. Any WoW player, from workday casual (hasn’t yet reached level 60) to ultra-hardcore (epileptic seizures from playing too much),  will agree that fishing is a monotonous pain in the pudenda. Despite increased rewards and an improved leveling system, most choose to ignore it. “But what the hey, I’m here anyway,” I find myself thinking each time I’m near a populated body of water and have a few minutes to kill.


One of the ships to Northrend.

After catching a few firefin snappers and participating in some last minute PvP duels, I boarded the newly arrived boat with the rest of an exceedingly diverse throng. While I couldn’t see the other players’ faces, their characters’ spazziness suggested a degree of eagerness usually only encountered among post-toddlers on Christmas morning. For many, new WoW content is better than Christmas.


The ship’s captain?

To my surprise, Howling Fjord had an understated tone–no great battles, no urgent quests–just a simple alliance stronghold called Valgarde with a lone questgiver who seemed a little too nonchalant, given his proximity to one of the world’s most powerful entities. Clearly, things here would be different.


Not shown: countless massacred turkeys.



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