The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

World of Warcraft: Exploring the Seasons of Azeroth

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” —Ecclesiastes

It’s been a while since I last wrote about World of Warcraft, but to put things in perspective, the two and a half months between this post and my last, on Blackrock Depths and the Molten Core, pales in comparison to the fact that my original World of Warcraft post on my old site dates back nearly ten years. After I finished exploring what was counted to be World of Warcraft‘s most iconic endgame mission with a properly kitted-up mage, I decided to spin up a paladin for variety’s sake and go exploring – originally, when I had been on a friend’s private server years previously, I was more focused on doing level-appropriate quests and partying up with friends where they were available. Because this private server had only a slightly accelerated experience rate and standard drop rates, I spent most of my time in the lower level areas of the game, trying to ensure that I was sufficiently levelled to join friends on different events without requiring being resurrected every other engagement with enemies. As a result, many parts of Azeroth were completely unknown to me: I’d spent almost all of my time in the Eastern Kingdoms and hardly ever set foot on Kalimdor, the western continent. This changed when I accepted a quest from Collin Mauren, Retrieval for Mauren – said quest entailed bringing a total of eight Crystalised Scales to him in Stormwind. The quest gave a Spellcrafter Wand, which would’ve been a decent prize at my level, and so, I accepted. This quest saw me travel south, flying over Stranglethorn Vale to Booty Bay: because my friends had once summoned me here for an earlier meet up, I already had the flight path discovered, so I was able to simply pass over the areas I was not the appropriate level to deal with. I subsequently boarded the boat and landed in the Barrens. Eluding Horde guards and patrols, I reached the Stonetalon Mountains and made my way to the Charred Vale to begin collecting the Crystalised Scales.

Later that evening, I’d been requested to help out with an event: one of the local charities was hosting a focus group on trying to understand what the community thought of philanthropy, and since the original attendee was not able to make it, I was asked to go in their stead. The meeting was held in a building just south of the downtown core, and as the light of day turned a deep golden hue as sun set, I answered questions about what it meant to be a philanthropist. While it is commonly accepted that a philanthropist is someone of independent financial means who can donate generously to causes, such as medical research and charities, all of the participants agreed that the desire to help others in need, and contributions at all levels were meaningful. This was the aim of the focus group, and after the meeting ended, I returned home. With the last rays of light still present, I finished the quest, returned to Mauren and got my Spellcrafter Wand, which would serve me for a few levels. While exploring the Stonetalon Mountains, I was charmed with the visual design and aesthetic – the area consists of evergreen forests and steep cliffs, quite unlike the gentle plains of Elwynn Forest or the peaks of Dun Morogh. However, despite my intrigue, I never bothered returning to the Stonetalon Mountains until the private server’s final days – as we were nearing the start of a university term, my friend was looking to shut down the private server owing to the effort it took to run one, but consenting to let me explore being a GM for the final week before our first term began. Armed with the ability to create a level 80 character out of the gates, I summarily prepared a character and took advantage of my permissions to explore Azeroth more freely: during that week, I saw more of Azeroth than I had during the whole of my time on the private server. I collected the screenshots and transitioned smoothly into university subsequently, with thoughts of World of Warcraft fading from my mind as I began focusing on my coursework.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • All of the screenshots in this post date back to September, and I admit that this post was originally intended to be written then. However, I became enthralled by YU-NO, and so, ended up putting off this post. Further to this, after The Division 2‘s manhunt events began, I stopped playing World of Warcraft in order to complete the various objectives and unlock gear for my character. Over the past three months, I’ve made considerable strides in The Division 2, and I’ll be talking about that as soon as the current event is over.

  • Even though Wrath of the Lich King is twelve years old now, the game doesn’t look half bad at 1080p: when I first started playing World of Warcraft, I was rocking a Dell XPS 420 and gamed at a resolution of 1024 by 768 to maximise frame rates. The additional screen space now really helps me to appreciate the details that I missed then, and the Stonetalon Mountains have a very distinct, unique feel to them because of the combination of its narrow red cliffs, blue skies, evergreen trees and Tauren totems that give the area a very exotic feel.

  • Because I did the philanthropy focus group the same evening I reached the Stonetalon Mountains, the two are inexplicably related in my mind: every time I pass by the building south of the downtown core where the focus group happened, I am reminded of the Stonetalon Mountains. Back in high school, course work was very straightforwards and I often finished most of my assignments in class – this left a good hour every evening for taking it easy. While I would spend this time doing revision prior to exams, where there were no exams, I could afford to spend time in World of Warcraft.

  • During my original run, I spent about three-quarters of an hour in the Stonetalon Mountains: I had been just powerful enough to hold my own in the Charred Vale, and before the focus group, I had half of the required items already collected. That evening, I finished collecting everything, used my hearthstone to return to Stormwind, and that was the last I would visit the Stonetalon Mountains. Subsequently, I returned after being made a GM in the weeks before the private server closed for good, and I believe I still have a few screenshots on my old site of my paladin before the server shut down.

  • For this post, then, I’ve opted to showcase a paladin I reconstructed to approximate the sort of build I would’ve had back then: paladins are a hybrid melee/healer class that fulfils the role between that of a warrior and priest. Capable of absorbing damage and wielding healing magic, as well as dealing raw damage, a paladin is useful in situations where a party requires a player that can fit into several roles depending on the requirements for that day’s activity. As a solo player, however, the mechanics of a paladin are not as apparent, and I picked the class primarily because of the ability to equip all sorts of armour and weapons, which makes for more interesting screenshots all around.

  • Accepting random quests as a mage had sent me to Azshara, a beautiful region in the northeastern corner of Kalimdor, where it is possible to see evergreen trees with autumn foliage. Reds and oranges dominate the landscape, but despite the splendid scenery, there’s also plenty of hostiles, as well. As a paladin, most of the common enemies in the game have insofar done negligible damage, and I’ve experimented with a wide range of one-handed swords and shields to see what works for me. Because I have access to the GM console, I spent a few evenings looking up items at Wowhead and applying them to my character; this is something I’ve not done for over a decade.

  • In the end, my characters each have two main setups: one for handing dungeons, and a more casual load-out for exploration, designed with aesthetics in mind rather than combat efficiency. I will address the fact that I am running World of Warcraft‘s infamous bikini armours: for anyone coming in from my The Division posts, such a setup would be unrealistic and unimaginable in a setting where bullets are flying, but in World of Warcraft, I don’t mind admitting that the results aren’t half bad.

  • While I might have abused my GM powers to kit myself out however I’d like, I’ve opted to play World of Warcraft in a more conventional manner, completing quests myself and exploring areas the way they were meant to be explored. The use of GM powers is really to offset the fact that I am solo, and that owing to the way I’ve configured things, my server is a true private server, for me to explore at my own pace. In many ways, the solo World of Warcraft experience is not too dissimilar to Skyrim. I picked up Skyrim a few years ago and got a considerable bit of enjoyment out of it, although I’ve never actually completed the main campaign.

  • Of late, while I work, I’ve been listening to a lot of Skyrim remixes on YouTube – background music helps me to focus in general, and I cycle between relaxing piano, bossa nova café and video game ambience depending on what I’m working on and the time of day. When Skyrim joined my rotation, it suddenly hit me that the time is ripe for me to return to Skyrim, remove all the mods and play the game as it was meant to be played, such that I can finish the campaign and say that I did. When I think about it, I bought Skyrim in 2013, and still have yet to finish it: this means that I’ve been procrastinating for nearly seven years.

  • Considering the state of current games, and my general disinterest in multiplayer games, especially since the focus has shifted towards battle royale, and how the player-base is increasingly young, I do not believe that I will have a good time in multiplayer games as I once did, on account of both slowing reflexes and a lack of inclination to listen to children spam memes in every lobby I participate in. Conversely, single-player experiences have been significantly more fun for me, and while I admit that I’ve done some pretty fun things in multiplayer games (like Halo 2, where I got a killimanjaro and wiped servers on my own, decimated entire enemy teams using the Ilya-Muromets in Battlefield 1, or went on a 30+ streak in Battlefield V using a tank), single player games are consistently more relaxing and enjoyable.

  • Without any other players to impact my experience, a private World of Warcraft server lets me to explore Azeroth to my heart’s content: we recall that my original desire to spin up a private server stemmed from a sweaty level 20 party kicking me because my DPS wasn’t high enough. The joke’s on them now: I can trivially solo Shadowfang Keep now, and no one’s kicking me from my own server. Here, I explore Hillsbrad Foothills. I originally visited briefly as a Blood Elf warlock to acquire a few screenshots for my old website, but otherwise, never really explored the area to any detail.

  • At some point in the future, I will be showing off Silvermoon Isle and the Ghostlands: while The Burning Crusade is not one of the most fondly-remembered expansions, the Blood Elves were a great addition to the game, and their obsession with mana makes for an excellent warlock. That will be a story for another time, and here, I wander Hillsbrad Foothills with impunity: like Azshara, Hillsbrad Foothills is a forested region, and is an immensely peaceful setting, with quiet grasslands and tranquil streams. Breaking up the landscape are the occasional evergreen tree in autumn colours. In reality, such a sight would suggest a pine beetle infestation, but in World of Warcraft, a place with magic, we can suppose that their evergreen trees are not like our evergreen trees.

  • According to the World of Warcraft lore, despite its peaceful setting, the area around Hillsbrad Foothills is actually has a checkered past, being the battleground for many a bitter battle between Alliance and Horde. In-game, Horde and Alliance players alike visit the Hillsbrad Foothills owing to its location between Horde and Alliance territory. PvP is common, and this is one of those things that my private private server won’t be able to emulate. I’ve never actually done any PvP in World of Warcraft before, even with my friends: we’d been entirely focused on PvE activities, which my friend found to be rather more meaningful for the community spirit: I think the original reasoning for hosting the server was to foster a sense of community as a part of the IB CAS module.

  • I was never an IB student myself – a lot of folks took the programme because they sought admissions to other universities, but since I had no such ambition at the undergraduate level (and IB wasn’t a requirement for the Bachelor of Health Science programme), I decided for the standard stream. In retrospect, I might’ve been better prepared for some of the challenges that I faced early in my undergraduate degree were I to have an IB background, but the trade-off for this was that I made some unique and enjoyable memories by spending my off time doing other activities, which included yearbook, leading the preparations for graduation and of course, playing World of Warcraft and watching Gundam 00 without being overwhelmed by course work and excessive extracurricular activities.

  • When university started, the first term was a bit of an adjustment, as I needed to acclimatise to the different way courses and schedules were structured. By the second term, I was much more at home with the way things worked. One thing I did notice was that a lot of my fellow students oftentimes did not pay attention in class, and some would even game during class. A few students in my introductory computer science lecture, for instance, were always found in World of Warcraft while the professor spoke of iterations, recursion, object-oriented concepts and the like. Conversely, in my health science classes, all of my classmates (and friends) gave the lecturer their undivided attention.

  • High on my list of places to return to were the Hinterlands: after discovering all of the smaller areas in the Hillsbrad Foothills, I followed a footpath into the Hinterlands and returned to a site I’d not set foot in for over ten years. The Hinterlands are every bit as peaceful and scenic as I remember: while being level-appropriate would have meant the local fauna would have a go at me, the fact that I’m at the level cap means I can explore with impunity.

  • The Hinterlands was a level 40-45 zone in Wrath of the Lich King, and if memory serves, the furthest I ever got was level 36: in order to have a server-wide event with all of us, my friend ended up levelling all of us to the cap and provided us with raid gear sets so we could explore parts of Azeroth together without worrying about being wiped. As such, during my original run, I never did have a chance to explore the Hinterlands, a pristine evergreen forest dotted with lakes and ancient temple ruins. I believe today, with level scaling, level 30 players can begin visiting the region.

  • To reproduce an image I had from back in the day, I found a Primitive Owlbeast to fight. Here, I’m wielding Glorenzelg, High-Blade of the Silver Hand, an epic sword that ordinarily drops from the Lich King himself. It’s a ways more powerful than any of the other swords I’ve looked at, and on top of that, looks like a proper epic, end-game weapon. Each swing deals up to 3000 damage, and the sword has some solid attributes, as well. All of the lore surrounding Arthas and the Lich King is a constant reminder that I’ve still got more to explore in World of Warcraft.

  • With The Division 2‘s third manhunt season drawing to a close, I imagine that I’ll have most of December free – if the previous seasons were any indicator, I should have three weeks between the end of the third season and the beginning of the fourth, so that should give me time enough to explore Outland and write a post for that, as well as begin begin checking out Northrend, which I’d never set foot on during my private server days. In addition, I’ve been thinking about doing a post for GoldenEye 64 for a while, and since my love of first-person shooters comes from the first-ever Bond game for the Nintendo 64, it feels appropriate to look at what is probably one of the most iconic first-person shooters of all time.

  • Here, I wield the Ashbringer, a legendary sword that was only available to GMs until Legion, after which it became an artefact players could wield. While vastly eclipsed in power by the other weapons, the Ashbringer’s reputation would’ve been a source of intense speculation and discussion amongst players for over twelve years. It feels a little unscrupulous, then, to be able to trivially spawn and equip what is one of the the most illustrious items in World of Warcraft lore, but when I consider the fact that a lot of parties out there arbitrarily kick players for dealing ten percent less damage than they should at that level, the guilt evaporates immediately.

At present, the fact that I have my own private server means I am free to explore some of Azeroth’s more remote, and tranquil places. With no time limit on how long the server will be hosted for, I can explore at my own pace. I had actually travelled to the Stonetalon Mountains with World of Warcraft‘s Starter Edition, but post-Cataclysm, the site had changed beyond recognition. My private server runs Wrath of the Lich King, and as such, I was able to visit the region, precisely as I had remembered it a decade earlier. Beyond treading familiar grounds, I also travelled through much of Kalimdor, discovering a beautiful region called Azshara, where it is eternally autumn. I also returned to Hillsbrad Foothills and Hinterlands, the latter of which is a remote area that remained largely unexplored when my friends and I were partying together on the private server. The Stonetalon Mountains, Azshara, Hillsbrad Foothills and Hinterlands only represent a small selection of places in Azeroth that one can explore en route to reaching the level cap, and looking back, the sheer scope and scale of World of Warcraft is nothing short of impressive: even though my private server means not having the social interactions through partying, trading and raiding as the complete game does, just wandering the different regions of Azeroth was a reminder of the effort and attention paid to detail in World of Warcraft‘s development. Even today, World of Warcraft‘s scale remains an achievement, and as such, it is easy to see why despite the game’s age, Blizzard has opted to continue developing new expansions with expanded lore, gear and exploration for their players – World of Warcraft has aged very gracefully, and even on a single-player private server that is six expansions and twelve years behind the times, I’m still finding new and noteworthy things to do and explore.

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