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Pie and I had decided that we had enough World of Warcraft somewhere in the course of the Mists of Pandaria expansion (~June 2013). We enjoyed ourselves well enough, the zones were beautiful and the mini-boss monsters that littered the fields were a fun challenge, but overall the game was just too easy and felt really stale. As you may know, challenge is a huge compelling reason to play a game for Pie and me, so the lack of such is often a deal breaker.
When we decided to go back to WoW recently, it was more of a fluke than anything. Hearthstone was having a cross promotion to unlock a hero (Lady Liadrin) by getting a new character to level 20 in WoW. So I decided to go ahead and do it, and the vastness of the world in the earlier zones just really struck a chord with me. I was telling Pie just how much I was missing the expansive zones and the sheer character Blizzard breathed into its world, something most MMOs have no solid grasp of, and we both started to get the craving. When we found out that part of the promotion for the new Warcraft movie made it so we got the Warlords of Draenor expansion for free, we figured… "Eh…let's sub for a month and just romp and explore what WoW knows how to do best-- create a compelling, living world-- before dropping it like a bad habit".
Much to our surprise, we found the first open zone in WoD, Shadowmoon Valley (Go Alliance! :P), to be incredibly engrossing! Having our garrisons (WoW's player housing feature) open up early on was an unexpected treat but more than that, the zone was filled to the brim in something that Pie and I desperately crave in games; exploration with purpose. In Shadowmoon Valley alone, there were over 60 treasures obtained from rare mobs and treasures found littered throughout the world. They ranged from item upgrades, to aesthetically unique items, to simple trash items that had high gold value with a splash of flavor text attached. What's more, many were in places that required you to explore the world in order to find, and this feature alone had Pie and I giddy with glee!
We found a mod to hide our UI completely and played solely on finding things naturally through discovery and it was one of the best gaming experiences she and I've had in quite a long time. The zone didn't feel cluttered and there weren't quests that held your hand leading you to every piece of content that was created…rather, the world was there and it was up to us to discover. It was an incredible change from previous expansions and, despite the still pitiable difficulty, the exploration and narrative have us firmly re-entrenched in WoW!
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