This is an odd feature to write, because the ultimate solution to my current dilemma is to simply turn off what I'm playing and find something else to do. But while that might be the only thing to do, what I really want to talk about is what happens when something becomes such a cornerstone of your gaming life, that it's pretty much irreplaceable.
That's World of Warcraft for me – and indeed my partner. I've been playing since the servers went live on the morning of November 23, 2004. My partner joined me online a few months later, and I started over with her so that we could level up a pair of characters together – a Mage and a Priest – and they've gone on to become our main characters, each logging some 5,600 online hours since then.
Of course, we've played other characters too. To be expected when you're putting in at least a couple of hours of WoW activities a night on average, and certainly during our peak Warcrafting during the latter stages of WoW's second expansion, Lich King, where we were investing some 30 hours a week into the game. It was almost like working two shifts where we were often rushing home from our day jobs, scarfing down a meal and then playing through the rest of the evening, barely saying a real-life word to one another – and instead talking through the game in between raid bosses to catch up and figure out any real life issues we needed to plan for or resolve. Not the healthiest way to carry on, it must be said. Indeed, the question of why the hell we'd do that to ourselves is a perfectly valid one, the answer is easy: We loved what we were doing.
While sometimes it did get a little much, we were on a mission with a large guild of people who were all very similar to us – mature adults whose average age was somewhere north of 30. A few people from our raiding pool of some 35 individuals were between jobs, or worked at home, and we also had a couple of stay-at-home housewives and househusbands, and even one retiree who, lucky enough for them, could afford to stop working in his late 40s and do his own thing – which just happened to be WoW. But most people were like us: professionals with jobs who absolutely loved playing WoW, and had caught the raiding bug. Like us, they'd rush home from work, and then spend five or so hours of their evening raiding, at least three times a week. And when they weren't raiding, they were often in game farming for materials to make raiding items, or simply doing their own thing.
I'm sure many might see this sort of behavior as unhealthy, and anyone who didn't actually know us would likely pigeonhole what we were doing as activities of some kind of shut-in, basement dwelling addicts, and maybe there's some truth in that. But the reality is, we were all a bunch of high-functioning, fairly normal people who just had a shared obsession with World of Warcraft - like many hundreds of thousands of other hardcore players out there.
After being part of a raiding guild for almost four years, we ended up dialing back the hours we were spending with the game. Putting that many hours into a game every week was simply too much, and we wanted to have a more healthy work-life-WoW balance. So we gave up raiding as a main activity, and instead went more casual, raiding once a week. We also started playing PvP regularly for a couple of hours a night, which was a little easier to manage time-wise, because you can stop anytime you want without pissing off 23 other players who might be relying on you. Our 30 or so hours a week became more like 15, and that's largely the way we've been playing for the last four or so years.
The point of me telling you all of this is to help paint a picture of what I'm really talking about, and that's how a game can insinuate itself into one's life and become a regular fixture, just like watching hours and hours of TV used to be back in the day. You don't really think about it – it's just something that you do. I do play other games – usually late at night – but the bulk of my gaming is still WoW. More importantly, it's the game I play with my partner – a shared passion that is really enjoyable for us to do together.
That habit is about to be broken, however. Following the latest expansion to World of Warcraft, Warlords of Draenor brought with it significant changes to its structure and design that fundamentally alters the way the game plays. I won't go on at length about them, since I already did that in one of the longest reviews I've ever written, but what my partner and I have found since launch is that neither of us are having anywhere near the fun we were having with the game just a few months before the expansion.
Characters that were rich, complex and fun have been overly simplified and now feel frustratingly limited to play. The new garrison is an OCD time sink that we just don't find fun to administrate, and PvP seems completely unbalanced, and frustrating for casters who now no longer have enough tricks in their books to be able to effectively withstand attacks from multiple sources. This results in quick and numerous deaths, which is made worse by the fact that I'm usually the only healer in a Battleground because currently, many people aren't playing theirs. What that means is I swiftly become the primary target of the opposition, and I get focused to death repeatedly – which is as frustrating as it sounds. We could go back to raiding, but playing the new simplified characters just isn't as compelling as it used to be. In most circumstances, it's downright dull.
In other words, WoW isn't much fun for us; we're falling out of love with a game we've loved for a decade – and in many respects still want to love. But it's just not working for us anymore.
So it's time for us to move on, but here's the crux of what I'm talking about. When a game has been such a regular part of your life, it's impossible to replace it. We've been looking around for something that could be our "new WoW," but we can't really find anything that we fancy. Sure, there are other MMOs out there, but they aren't WoW. So why even bother? That's the decision we've ultimately made – because we don't want to end up chasing the dragon.
I'm going to miss it terribly, sure, because it's been such a part of our life. But what I'm going to miss most is playing with my partner, because she's not that into gaming, but WoW was something she really enjoyed. Over the years there have only been a few games that we've played together, but the reality is that going forward, I know we'll be doing far, far less gaming together.
However, at least I can start doing things outside of gaming that I haven't been doing for many years. Quite what, remains to be seen – but figuring out a new hobby that I can pour some considerable hours into sounds like it might be pretty good fun. While I'm going to miss WoW, I think that this particular cloud might well have a silver lining after all.