Like the groaning, mindless, lurching, brain munching, necrotic corpses made famous in the movies by Tourneur, Romero, Ossorio and Fulci, I have returned from the bleak purgatory of life outside MMOs and am making a shambling return to massively multiplayer worlds and overextended, overwrought metaphors.
In other words, I’m back.
The last I don’t know how many months have seen me playing a handful of single player games (Bioshock was brilliant, Quake Wars not so much. Finally worked out how to play Counter-Strike albeit badly and Call of Duty 4 was annoyingly annoying yet strangely compelling and graphically stunning) I had a quick bash at Age of Conan which was disappointing regardless of how many heads I separated from shoulders but finally, it was the overpopulated realms of Azeroth which dragged me back. And what a time to go back.
Which pointless precursor brings me to the inevitably obvious topic of the post: the pre-expansion, zombie invasion event that heralded the return of the Scourge (and which Zubon so guardedly alluded to in the previous post).
For those of you are elsewhere, totally unaware or couldn’t care less but are still reading this, here’s a quick summary of events:
Day 1: Incubation The Argent Dawn send healers to cities and towns while suspicious crates appear in Booty Bay. Characters (both player and NPC) who interact with them are infected with a mysterious plague. If not cured within 10 minutes, they turn into a zombie footsoldier of the undead Scourge.
Day 2: Infection The very same suspicious crates start to appear in major cities as do infected roaches and rats that infect anyone who kills them. The plague increase in strength – the incubation period reduces to 5 minutes.
Day 3: Outbreak Scourge Necropolises appear in the sky near all major capital cities. Zombification occurs a mere 2 minutes after infection. The zombies get stronger.
Day 4: Epidemic OMGWTF! Zombies everywhere, pouring from the sewers, attacking our cities, destroying our defences. 1 minute infection time. Healers pulling back. We’re overwhelmed, can’t hold them anymore. Please mummy, I don’t want to die like this… please… oh god, oh god! I can’t feel my legs… my head burns…no – please, don’t let me become like theeeeerrrrrrraaaarrrrgghhhh!!!! BRAAIIINNNNSSSS!
Day 5: Quarantine The Horde develop a cure and zombies go away. For now…
This was one of the best events I’ve ever had the fortune to partake in during an MMO. Better than the pub crawl around The Shire. Better, even, than chicken play. Being a zombie was a lot of fun. Hell, beating back a zombie attack was a lot of fun (and led to some of the best impromptu role-playing I’ve seen in any game – if you like that sort of thing).
Of course, not everyone enjoyed it and there were plenty of complaints on the official forums and other fan sites and in game about the irritating and annoying nature of the event. To a certain extent, their complaints were understandable – this was non-consensual PvP taking place even on PvE servers. Apparently it reminded some of the pre-Trammel, free-for-all era of Ultima Online (that, personally, I have no experience of) and players complained that quest NPCs, bankers, auctioneers, flight masters and other useful NPCs were being killed, thereby delaying and obstructing their playing time. There’s also a more prurient question about lowbie ganking which is most certainly pertinent. Except, while I can sort of understand their complaints, I really do think they were missing the point about all that was good about this event.
Firstly, this was a world event that not only affected everyone on the server but also changed and evolved over time. We’re so used to static worlds with a non-progressing timeline in whatever our MMO of choice is that this was a refreshing change. For once the disclaimer that “Game experience may change during online play” was in full effect. This was something that knocked even the most conditioned of us from our Pavlovian treadmills. An event that played more or less in real time with aspects changing as days went by: the number of suspicious crates increased, the incubation rate reduced, the number of Argent Dawn healers dwindled. The final series of quests, to visit the Grand Apothecary temporarily quartered in Shattrath, pretty much played out while I was at work. By the time I got around to logging on last night, the NPCs weren’t there and it was pretty much all over.
Secondly, this was world-pvp on an unprecedented level. Forget all the honor points and corpse runs. Forget capture-the-flag and other Battleground games – this was merely a game of tag as played by school children around the world. A simple case of “Tag! You’re it!” Death did not result in a corpse run – not immediately. If you died by infection or zombie attack, you became a zombie, a member of a third faction (Alliance and Horde players who became zombies could communicate and even trade with each other for the first time ever), friendly towards Scourge mobs and hostile towards, well, everyone else. But whereas most other world PvP events stagnate before they even get started and the factions take turns in capturing towers for their quests, trading hollow victories and not having any impetus to really take part, this event was driven by the very mechanics of becoming a zombie. As your zombie, your health bar would diminish over the time and pretty much the only way to replenish it was to attack something. It’s hard to be a “carebear” pacifist when your very existence depends on killing to survive.
Thirdly, the story. I first started playing WoW during the Ahn-Qiraj war effort. I could hardly contribute being, as I was, a low-level warlock trying to learn the game. I knew I could turn in bandages and fish and other stuff but the overall story regarding the War Effort passed me by. I had no idea why I was turning over all this stuff (apart from getting a box full of teh mostly useless shiney) or who the enemy was. It seemed distant, remote. The Scourge Invasion, however, is anything but remote. There were zombies on the doorstep. The more the event progressed, the more the zombies became a presence and the more life in the cities became difficult. This struck me as having a very real effect on the playing populace that was reminiscent of what we’ve seen in films like Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later and so on. To escape the zombies, you had to find somewhere remote to survive like Desolace or Zangarmarsh or so on – somewhere to hole up and hope they don’t come and get you. (Ironically, the more intense the zombie epidemic became, the less likely it was that they would make it to zones far from the cities. The reduced incubation times meant infected players couldn’t reach the Hinterlands or the Burning Steppes or possibly even parts of Hillsbrad or Silverpine Forest before they’d transform.) Warcraft III was all about the arrival of the Scourge and I can only imagine that this is how the story would have played out.
Finally, just like LOTRO’s chicken play, this was a demonstration of new technology (well, new to me anyway if someone can tell me differently in respect to WoW) – namely the possibility of a third faction and the ability to change an existing characters allegiances – not to mention the possibility of further week long events that evolve and progress over a short time. Perhaps nothing will ever come of it again or perhaps there’s more to the forthcoming expansion than is being publicly announced (and a polite request here to ask that even if you’ve been in Beta and even if you know things which us mere mortals don’t, please NO SPOILERS in the comments. Yes I’ve seen a video and yes I’ve gleaned some facts but, personally, I know as much as I want to know and I don’t want to know any more than that. Thank you for your consideration.)
I will concede that the event was not 100% perfect. Recalling the old AQ War Effort also recalls that what people were working too was an event – the opening of the gates and a new dungeon. But that was a high end dungeon that meant nothing to low end characters (nor anybody who was not in a raiding guild prior to the release of the first expansion pack). If they had put something similar – tasks that could collectively be achieved be it gathering, quests, whatever – that would push back the onset of this particular plague then perhaps it would have stopped people feeling like victims. (For example, the suspicious crates could be opened, thereby infecting players, but they couldn’t be destroyed or disposed of. A cure was found but imagine if it only came into effect dependant on the efforts of the players – then those who did not enjoy the event could take an active part in actually trying to stop it all taking place.
Don’t take that as a complaint from me about the event, though, merely an observation and suggestion. Quite frankly, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Zombie Apocalypse in Azeroth and am glad to have witnessed it and taken part in it. What about you? Enjoy it? Hate it? Any memorable experiences or just terrible ones?