As my World of WarCraft character — yes, we’re talking about that again — crosses that final threshold of manhood, or in this case Death Knighthood, and enters the domain of level 80, I instantly realize how much I will miss leveling. That bone-wearing, mind dulling experience of traipsing about mythical lands to do the arbitrary bidding of whatever random slob has a problem with the local population of rats, zombies or zombie rats, all for a pittance of gold and merit. Yeah, that thing.
I’m totally going to miss it.
If my character were a song, he’d be “Where Do We Go From Here” from the Buffy Musical, and then he’d probably get beaten up by a fifth grade bully for being a dork. Troubling and incongruous references aside I feel like I have just finished the climb up a surprisingly steep trunk of some grand tree, only to find myself facing an even higher climb among thousands of possible branches, each of which I seem equally unprepared for.
I have the sinking feeling all that leveling was just an extended prologue to whatever the story of my character might be. No, seriously, where do I go from here?
Understand, this is not a crisis of fun, so let me save you the time of suggesting I just quit. For one thing, I do enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes from being level 80. I fly the frigid skies of Icecrown atop my epic mount, soaring across peaks and plummeting into valleys ripped asunder by the marching hordes of the Lich King, and sometimes I even make whooshing noises as I careen about. Alone in the skies I can embrace an illusion of superiority.
For another thing, I seem to have had an easier time quitting smoking a decade ago than I do permanently laying World or WarCraft to rest. I mean, for God’s sake, I once deleted alevel 70 hunter and level 60 mage entirely, only to come back 3 months later and rebuild anew. I appear to be completely ensorcelled, so let’s not dally around with this quitting nonsense.
Still, I end my march to 80 with all the burdens of my habitual soloing ways. I am a max-level death night in green armor, which is a lot like saying I plan to attend a black-tie dinner party wearing acid-wash jeans and an I’m With Stupid t-shirt. I am better prepared to fix the Nigerian economy than I am to run a raid like Naxx or Ulduar with the guild.
Not the least of my problems is a language barrier. Despite playing this game for as many years as it has been released, I still find most higher level theorycraft (yes, they have the audacity to make it sound like an academic pursuit) to be filled with the kind of arcane and obscure language one might expect from a middle-renaissance Italian dissertation on the metallurgical mysteries of alchemical processes. People begin discussing DPS charts and dual-spec models, and like you my eyes glaze over.
I couldn’t dedicate that dedication of thought to my college degree and I’m sure as hell not making an exception for a video game.
I like the simple and uncomplicated linear level model. Here is level 10 and in umpteen-thousand arbitrary units I will increment that number to the next ordinal position. I get that!
Call it an old-school throwback to scoring in games, a practice abandoned far too soon, but I gravitate to empirical measures of advancement. After level 80, where the world opens up to endless possibilities I can choose to run instances, engage in player-versus-player conflict, grind out reputation through daily quests, play the auction house, gear up for raids, advance through the Argent Tournament, work toward clearing achievements, and so on and so on and so on — well, how the hell am I supposed to choose?
Really, WoW? Are you telling me that 80 levels were nothing but a glorified tutorial? Really? What kind of grand time-sink purgatory have you opened up for me?
Even now, I see friends far off in the distance frolicking in their Dream-Mail of Many Colours, knocking the old gods from their pedestals and beckoning me like sirens from rocky shoals. Between us a foggy bog, paths twisting like a minotaur’s maze, and I feel vaguely like calling back, “No, I’m good here. Thanks anyway.” What I secretly want is someone to just tell me what to do.
Ok, so you have a Death Knight wearing armor apparently made from industrial strength crete paper, so what you do is … and then there would be an elaborate explanation for the correct path through the tree. Preferably that advancement would involve incremental numbers that I can track obsessively, and maybe some candy.
Instead it’s all about what I want to do. Oh, am I dual wielding or 2-handed? Blood spec, hybrid, unholy? DPS or tank focused? Should probably focus on hit gear, but don’t forget expertise and resilience but only if you can socket in some strength unless you’ve got good crit, and oh what do you mean you haven’t got any of your gear enchanted. *deep breath* Well then, you can either …
Oh honestly, I can get more conclusive answers about issues of divinity than I can about a sound path through post-80 WoW. Can’t someone please just ask me to go kill 10 of something, maybe those shifty eyed demon-mages, I think I heard them say something about your mother. Someone should really kill a bunch of them, and oh look at this, I have a sword!
Days of playtime in, and still I can’t argue when I am exposed for my absolute ignorance. I have made the error of approaching WoW as if it was something to do in my spare time instead of dedicating entire lobes of my brain toward its intense study. I begrudge no one who chooses not this endless cycle of diminishing returns, but I am entrenched now and I know secretly that once I get my bearings I’ll be happily playing a jaunty tune as the Titanic sinks around me.
So let’s see, which of these options have the most numbers that go up…