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Saturday, May 7, 2016

We Were Nostalrius

Nostalrius is a name deserving of the same reverent repetition as Robert Paulson's. Its name was Nostlarius, and it was a private, non-profit World of Warcraft server. It ran a stable version of the vanilla game, patch 1.12, with progressive release of raids and battlegrounds. I was one of nearly a million people who were members of this community, before its senseless destruction last month.

As the dust settles from Blizzard's takedown of Nostalrius, there's not much more to say. We've voiced our outrage and our sorrow. Our collective outcry has been widely reported on through the games media, more so than I think any of us would have expected. Our petition has over 254k signatures as of this writing. But now the news cycle has moved on, and the petition has been delivered to Blizz by a former employee. There's a meeting in the works, but its subject and outcome are as yet unknown. Our words have spoken as loudly as they are going to. Whatever happens going forward, the past cannot be changed.

The day I heard the news I put down my thoughts in a brief essay. It's a topical thing, written to help me understand my own feelings. Since writing it I've watched the end happen, seen the community come together, and had enough time to really process how I feel. Nostalrius was a beautiful moment in time that we can never go back to. Now, before it's memory passes beyond relevance, I want to share some final thoughts.

This is less of an essay or an argument, and more of an extended reminiscence, divorced from any broader discussion about what should happen now. I want to enshrine some of the great memories Nostalrius gave me, so that they might never be forgotten.


This is from the day that I discovered Nostalrius. It was August 19th, 2015, and it had been a very rough day. The latest in a long series of bad days I was pulling through at the time. I don't recall where I'd heard about Nostalrius, but on a lark I decided to check it out. It was surprisingly easy to set up, and within 30 minutes I was there in Northshire Abby. I don't think it's overly dramatic of me to say that it felt like coming home. The pre-Lich King opening narration. The pre-cataclysm world, and the pre-cataclysm quests. There's a dignity to it that I just don't feel anymore. There's no weird gimmicks that the WoW engine was never intended to support. No jarring references to Deathwing's rampage. Northshire Abbey is a small place, with small problems. It lets you know that you are a small part of a large world. You are not destined to become a great hero, but if you work hard, you might earn it. 

The very first time I played World of Warcraft, as a college freshman back in 2007, I was tentative. I didn't expect to enjoy the game all that much. I think I considered myself above it. It was the wee hours of the morning before I stopped playing. I remember sitting on the fence post that separates Goldshire from the southern side of Elwynn forest, having reached some lofty level between 6 and 9. I was already hooked then.

This first evening on Nostalrius was like a mirror image to that first one. I knew I loved WoW, but I didn't know if this vanilla server could really hold my interest. I came into the thing with high hopes, but low expectations. What if, in fact, my love for the vanilla game was nothing more than nostalgia and rose tinted goggles, as I'd so often been told it was. In the wee hours of the morning when I finally logged off, I had my answer. I had been hooked in an instant, and it felt just as good as it had those 9 years prior.



This is the first screenshot I took on Nostalrius. I had to angle the camera carefully to get it right. There was always a constant stream of people doing the Onyxia key quest, and this room always looked just a little bugged from the last time it reset after the quest. Just out of frame here, one of the guards is stuck in their dragonkin form. Nobody ever said Nost was perfect.

I took this to send to an old buddy of mine. He's the guy who originally got me into WoW by giving me the login info for his second account. "Guess what I'm doing!" I told him. This is a room that hasn't existed since 2008, when the castle was remodeled in advance of Wrath of the Lich King.

Unfortunately that friend had no great love for oldschool WoW, and never joined us on Nost. Mores the pity.


I was a Nostalrius proselytist. Before I hit level 3, everyone I knew had been told that they had to check this shit out. Most folks demurred, citing their preference for avoiding addictive substances. I can hardly blame them. Two people did start playing the same day I did. Unsurprisingly, my girlfriend was excited to play. The two of us originally met in WoW, and we both have a great fondness for the older versions of the game. Somewhat more surprising was that my sister, who had never played WoW before, was also eager enough to get the game running the same day I did.

After I'd finished the human starting quests, I made the long run to Teldrassil to do all of my sister's starting quests with her. She'd rolled a druid, because the idea of having a ton of different animal forms appealed to her. Unfortunately, as she leveled, she was drawn more and more to the DPS-casting aspect of the class. Which...ya know. That means speccing Balance. In vanilla. Hahaha, yeah, I'm sorry Olivia. Vanilla WoW was great, but it wasn't perfect. Eventually she rolled a gnome mage named Penella, and actually managed to keep both characters leveled up enough to play with my ladyfriend and I. Damn kids and their seemingly infinite reservoirs of time.

My sister's vigor for the game was something of a surprise. She wasn't just playing to spend time with my ladyfriend and I; she played on her own time. She learned things, explored things, did things, all on her own. She was legitimately enjoying the game on its own merits. It really drove home the fact that there was more at play here than simple nostalgia. My sister is 16 years old. She was a toddler when Vanilla WoW was released. Yet here she is, thoroughly engrossed in a game that has ostensibly aged too poorly for anyone to love according to the stewards of its development. She's spending as much time playing it as her grognard of a brother whose actually old enough to be nostalgiac for it.

SHE DEDED


Given that I'm somewhat infamous for playing multiple warlocks, I suppose my choice to go with a warrior for my main bears some mention. Much as I love the rhythms of the Warlock class, I've wanted to play a tank for years, and this fresh start seemed like the best opportunity I was going to get.

Tanks fascinate me. It's by far the most difficult job in the game. Not only does it require a lot of situational awareness, but even the basic mechanics of it are poorly understood by most folks. Obviously you need good healers and good DPS in order to have a really good group, but in my experience, both of those are a lot easier to find than a good tank. And a good tank does a lot more for a group than a good DPS can. And on top of all that, most people are willing to defer to the tank as the de facto group leader, which is a role I enjoy. 

And since I've already got some experience tanking as a warrior with McJiggins, it seemed like the logical class to go with. Not to mention the fact that warriors were pretty much the only viable tanks in vanilla.

I later discovered that warrior was by far the most popular class on Nostalrius. I wonder if everybody else had the same idea. 


It's raining in Elwynn forest because on Nostalrius it's always raining in Elwynn forest. 

My ladyfriend's character is Hortensa, named for Hortensia, a Roman woman of the late Republican era. She's best known for giving a seriously badass speech about how the women of Rome will happily take up arms and defend the city against barbarians, but that they will not pay to fund a war against their own countrymen. The speech does get a little less awesome when you realize Hortensia is speaking out against a tax on the wealthiest women of the city, but still. The speech is metal. (Also, this is why you shouldn't ask me to help you with character names.)

Like a lot of Nostalrius players I met, my ladyfriend had an active subscription to the live servers. She maintained the sub for several months, despite how poorly modern WoW ran on her PC, and how frustrated she was getting with Warlords of Draenor. There were a few months where she paid her sub without playing more than an hour or two on live servers, preferring to spend her game time on Nostalrius. Eventually she cancelled.

I feel like this is an important point to bring up because anywhere I see Nostalrius discussed, there's always some Internet cynic eager to point out that people who played on Nost are just cheapskates. It has nothing to do with the quality of the game, that's just a cover to legitimize the fact that they don't want to pay any money for their game. It's an insulting dismissal of our position, and I confess that I feel infuriated every time I read it. I'm not going to lie and say I didn't enjoy the fact that Nost was free. Of course I did. Who doesn't like free things? But if they'd asked me for money I would have paid it.

If someone offers you a bowl of diahrrea for $15, and someone else offers you a bowl of ice cream for free, you're going to take the ice cream. And if some moron insists that you only picked the ice cream because you didn't want to pay $15, then you're going to laugh at them. Because that's a fucking ridiculous thing to say.


One of the things I've always said about oldschool WoW was that it was more challenging than the modern game is. It required more caution, more planning, and more skill just to get a simple quest done. That level of challenge is one of the things I was looking forward to the most, but holy heck did I underestimate it! The mobs are tough, the aggro radius is brutal, and chain pulls are common. Even being over-leveled from doing two starting zones, I died more getting from level 1 to 10 than I probably did during the entire time I played Cataclysm.

None of which is to say it was bad. The game demanded more of me, it made me push myself, which is great. But more than that, it forced me to look for other people to group with. That kind of interdependence is exactly what I want out of an MMO. If I want to be a solitary hero, I'll play an Elder Scrolls game. The whole point of an MMO is to be with people.

Fortunately, Nostalrius had people to spare. There was always, always, always somebody nearby to group with. I basically never had to do anything alone unless I really wanted to. During the time I was playing, an average weekday would have between 5,000 and 7,000 people online simultaneously. On a weekend, that could balloon to well over 10,000 people. That's not just a lot of people for a private server, it's a lot of people period. If an official Blizzard server had that many people on it, it would be marked as "High Population." There would be a queue to get onto it. They'd open up a second server to handle the overflow.

I imagine part of the reason Nost was able to do this was because they were running 11 year old software on modern hardware, and they were doing it in a world where highspeed internet has become much more common. Regardless, the effect was amazing. Seeing a world that was jam-packed with people, and constantly dealing with those people because you're trying to get the same quest done, was immensely satisfying. It really felt like you were a small part of a greater whole. Part of a community.

And the people on Nost were, hands down, the best people I've ever encountered in WoW. I encountered an asshole now and again, but by and large most folks were friendly, and passionate about the game. There was always someone willing to offer help and advice. Even the level of discourse in general chat was higher than normal, though that ol' Barrens-Chat culture seeped in from time to time. I had to prune my friends list viciously just to keep it manageable.


Here I grouped up with a pair of Scandinavians to hunt Defias Pathstalkers in Westfall. Real. Actual. Westfall.

When Cataclysm dropped, it bothered me that suddenly I hadn't done any of the low level quests. My big badass main, Sentaigrehsk, could walk into a place like Westfall and see exclamation points above people's heads! I didn't like it, so I went on a grand tour of the world, questing through all of my favorite zones as a level 80 character. Obviously Westfall was one of the most important important stops on my itinerary. Aside from being an exceeding well designed zone, it's a zone that comes at a special time in a new players development. If you roll a human, then leaving Northshire for the first time is a big deal. The playing space opens up, and you start to get a sense of how big the world really is. You visit Stormwind, and might even take the Tram to get to Loch Modan for Stormpike's Delivery. The world is big, but you're still doing quests in the same zone you started in. The landscape still looks the same, Northshire is still on the map when you pop it open. Westfall is like your first apartment after moving out of your parent's house. You're out on your own now, the world is yours to take.

Poetic waxing aside, I eventually completed all of Westfall's post-Cataclysm quests on Sentai. I uncovered the renewed Defias conspiracy, I helped the refugees, I'd be lying if I said the quests were bad. They were decently engaging. But then I got to the end, and my beloved Sentinal Hill was on fire. The centerpiece of Westfall, this place that held so many treasured memories for me. I wanted to fix it! And...I couldn't. That's how Westfall ends in the modern game. Every time Sentai flies over his old stomping grounds he enters a phased zone filled with fire and sadness. It's emblematic of Blizzard's entire attitude. "Hey, ya know that thing you like? We're going to set it on fire and there's nothing you can do about it."

As an aside, why is Westfall so tough for Warriors? Shit man. It was way easier on all my clothies.


Some thrice-cursed hordeling came through and killed Gryan Stoutmantle. That dude is basically the linchpin of every quest chain in the whole zone. You can't spend too much time in Westfall without some NPC or another telling you to talk to him. With him dead, there wasn't much to do but stand around and make sassy comments while we waited. It was awesome and hilarious.

To tell you the truth, if the PvE server had launched a few months earlier I totally would have moved over there. I'm not much of a PvP guy. Unfortunately for me, by the time the PvE server launched, I had three mid-level characters, my sister had two, and my girlfriend had one. Fuck it if we were gonna do all that over again.


My earliest screenshot of McJibbins!

I've never been the sort of player who rolls a lot of alts, but creating a second character quickly became a necessity on Nostalrius. I played a lot in those early days. So much so that I was in danger of out-leveling my two companions. As mentioned above, I was going through a rough time when I discovered Nost, and WoW has always helped me cope with tough times. In WoW you're always moving forward, always accomplishing things. If you put in work, you make progress. Simple as that. In real life, you can sometimes put in immense amounts of effort and never make any progress at all. So during times in my life when it feels like nothing I do ever makes anything better, the certainty of WoW is a comfort. And in 2015 I needed a lot of comfort.

McJibbins is named for my old warrior McJiggins. A character I rolled way back in the Burning Crusade before I even had my own account, and who finally hit level 60 the last time I had an active subscription. That was during Mists of Pandaria. Like I said, I'm not much of an alt guy. 

I would totally copy McJibbin's sexy green pixie haircut for myself if I wasn't a big fat guy with a beard. I just don't think I could pull it off. 


I am bummed that this is the only screenshot I have of grouping with Kazic! Kazic was a baller. McJiggins was leveling in Teldrassil so I could play with my sister. We met Kazic while trying to get through that motherfucking Furbolg cave. If you've ever played vanilla WoW, you know the one I'm talking about. That place is a nightmare maze of death. It's a level 10 quest that rivals any modern raid for difficulty. It's the sort of thing that everybody hates until after they've finished it. After that you look back on the accomplishment with pride. You made it through the gauntlet and you came out the other side. In that cave, strangers became brothers.

Kazic was the best kind of person to group with. The sort who would finish his quest, and then make sure to stay until you finished yours. And if someone new joined the group, he'd make sure to stay until they finished theirs too. With his help we all made it through the Furbolg cave in one piece.

The next day I was playing on my own when I saw Kazic off in the distance. He was down a steep hill from me, fighting a shambling mound by the side of the river. He was losing, so I ran over and tried to rescue him, but I was too late. He died just as my firebolt was leaving my fingertips.

A minute later, I was the one that was about to die. The shambling mound I'd tried to pull off Kazic had chain pulled a second shambling mound, and my poor little clothie ass was done for. Then Kazic came outta nowhere and managed to save me.

He and I grouped up almost every day for a week. After that I think he outpaced me in leveling and we didn't really see one another again. Wherever you are, Kazic: you're a good dude. I had a good time trying to kill that Satyr guy from the Rogue stealth quest with you. I always planned to hit you up once I got higher level, but it was not to be.


This is one of the many times I was fortunate enough to see a raid group gathering at the gates of Stormwind to turn in Onyxia's head. I think this Screenshot says a lot about what was great about vanilla, and what is so lacking in the modern version of the game.

In most video games, the fact that you will eventually beat any given level is assumed. But in old WoW, making it through a raid was a real accomplishment. The sort of thing that was worthy of a little pomp. If a group was able to get through Onyxia's Lair, the very easiest raid in the game, they could hang Onyxia's head from the gates of Stormwind. Everyone in the whole city would get a buff, and they could point to it and say that was there because of their sweat and blood. Everyone on the whole server could see their accomplishment. And even if you were not a part of their group, there was a sense that you were part of something grand. 

They'd done something you couldn't do. If you worked hard, maybe someday you'd be able to accomplish that thing, and if you ever did, then you knew you'd have earned something special. You would know that there were a lot of people who couldn't do what you had done, and would be impressed by it.


Here's my ladyfriend sexually harassing a Night Elf, and me being sassy about it.

I really have a ton of screenshots that are just me being sassy. I have a tendency to hit PrintScreen any time I say something I think is clever or witty. That's probably the most common sort of screenshot I have, and I promise I'm sparing you the majority of them.


This was one of my favorite persistent bugs in the game. If you were grouped with a Night Elf, and they died, then even after they returned to their body you would still see a wisp. They'd see themselves as normal, but everyone else in the group would just see a floating jumping ball of light. It didn't happen every time, but it happened a lot.

Nostalrius did have some glitches that were game breaking or annoying. Any quest that required an NPC to walk around independently was about a 50/50 shot. Server restarts often lost 5-10 minutes of game progress, which made me mad on more than one occasion. But honestly, most of the glitches were just amusing oddities like this.


Vanilla World of Warcraft was a game where your first set of shoulders was worthy of a screenshot. Even if those shoulders were literally grey vendor trash, because it was the best thing available to you at the time.

I love that. I love needing to scrape and scrounge my way to improve. The more humble your beginnings, the more satisfying your triumphs. 



"Why is this funner than live?"

"Because the devs don't actually know what made WoW popular in the first place. So patch after patch they remove WoW's soul."

"People on retail won't even wave back anymore, and the content is so easy I play Hearthstone at the same time."

"One of the first things I noticed when I started here was "Holy shit, people are buffing me as they run past!" I'd actually forgotten that used to be a thing."

"Yeah, man!" 
Such wisdom. We should all be impressed with that Scaevola guy, whoever he is. A modern Aristotle!


The original Defias Traitor quest was hard as balls. You're shackled to this weak NPC who crawls halfway across the zone at a snail's pace. It wouldn't be so bad, except he aggros into any combat that occurs within half a mile, so he's constantly running off to get killed and you've got to go save him. It was nightmarish, poorly designed, and required if you wanted to progress through the zone's main quest line. We can at least be satisfied that the Nost team appears to have prioritized debugging it, as it always went smoothly from a technical point of view.

But even these failings of the Vanilla game itself demonstrate how superior to live servers Nostalrius was. Here I am talking to a high level paladin who ran through Moonbrook to clear it. (Moonbrook being the final, nearly impossible part of the journey. Mobs there spawned so fast that by the time you got close to the end, the mobs near the start had respawned and you aggro'd onto them all over again.) Where the dev team or the game fell short, players worked together to cover the gaps. High level players often showed up in problem areas to make sure low level folks could progress. I myself went back to Moonbrook several times to help clear it out.


As anyone who plays WoW knows, walking around without a guild tag is a good way to get spammed with guild invites. Being part of a guild prevents that, so eventually I started a little novelty guild for my girlfriend, my sister, and I. Because I'm a super cool dude, I made it a shitty little <Death and Taxes> parody guild, <Doom and Tariffs>.

It was a good way for the three of us to chat, even when we were in different parts of the world, grouping with different people. We always figured that eventually we'd just merge into a larger guild once we were ready for higher level content, but that never actually came to pass.


Hands down, best glitch on Nostalrius. Every time I walked by here I checked to see if it had been fixed, and it never was. Glorious.

As far as I know, this NPC was never associated with any actual quests in the game. But for some reason, he's got a quest for you. If you talk to him to get the quest, he offers you a quest that is supposed to be given by an orphan child after you show them all the many sights of the world during the yearly "Children's Week" event. Why Watcher Callahan has it, I never found out. It's so bizzare I almost wonder if it was an intentional joke by the Nost team.

You can accept the quest, but unfortunately it's impossible to complete. It requires you to return your orphan child to the Stormwind orphanage. Since you don't actually have an orphan child, there's no one to return.



This fuckin' place. On the one hand it's awesome and I love it. It's a big compound filled with elite enemies, and it isn't instanced. It's basically a dungeon that you can experience simultaneously with everybody else on the server. Fighting elite monsters out in the world is one of the things I love the most about oldschool WoW, and this place is one of the best examples of it that I can think of. It's tough, and you can't do it alone, but there are people everywhere that you can work with to get the job done.

On the other hand, this is one of the few places where the high population got in the way more than it helped. The respawn on the named mobs took somewhere between two and three eternities. Meanwhile, the unnamed mobs (that could still kick your ass, even though you didn't need them for a quest) respawned pretty quickly. There were at least two groups waiting ahead of us when we arrived in this room, and it felt like hours before we were able to get our quest item and move on.

Then someone who will remain nameless forgot to grab their quest item. And because I love this person very much I was obligated to accompany them back into the breech to wait once more. Blarg!


Best guild name ever.


Finally we have the birth of my third and final character on Nostalrius. It was around this point that my sister had decided she wanted to play a mage instead of a druid, and so had started leveling Penella. She had a long road ahead of her to get back to the same level as my girlfriend and I, and we didn't want to make that road any longer by continuing to level up our mains. My girlfriend started doing a lot of PVP and working on a twink, while I decided it was time to resurrect an old friend. 

Sentaigresk the Warlock is my original WoW character from 2007. He's currently resting at level 87 or something, since I got bored halfway through Mists of Pandaria. He's the reason this blog exists, which makes him indirectly responsible for my entire writing career (such as it is). I don't think it's too bold to say that I have a lot of dormant skills as a Warlock, and I was excited to put those skills back into practice.

During my time on Nostalrius I played all three characters frequently, and they leveled at a fairly steady pace. That's weird for me, actually, since (as stated), I've never been much of an alt person. I don't know what about Nostalrius made this style of play more appealing than it used to be. It might have been the fact that I enjoyed the leveling process more, because it's more challenging and rewarding than it became in later versions of the game. It could also be the simple fact that I'm an older and more experienced person now than I used to be, and thus I enjoy games in a different way than I once did. In either case, I'm glad I got the opportunity. I enjoyed all three characters immensely.

In the shot above I can be seen singing a song about Garrick Padfoot while I waited for him to spawn.



When I found a nice item that I couldn't use, it became my practice to find other people who might benefit from the item, and give it away. This was particularly true of any item I had to grind to level my blacksmithing on Scaevola. I imagine there was a point when half the low level mail wearers on the server were wearing pants with my name on them.

Eventually I started using the mail system to just deliver items outright. Early on, though, I made a point of contacting people via whisper, confirming that they actually wanted the item in question, and bringing it to them. In the screenshots above I had discovered a nice paladin hammer, found a paladin who wanted it, and asked to be invited to a group so I could run him down to make the trade. When I joined, it turned out the dude was questing with another paladin of the same level, and I just so happened to have a second weapon that I was planning to give away. The three of us had a nice little half-role play exchange. They were a delightful pair.

Random acts of kindness area easier in WoW. Nobody questions them, they just thank you and move along their way. It's nice knowing you've given someone a good impression of the community, and I felt better knowing someone was actually getting use out of those greens. I never like seeing a nice item disappear into a vendor. Just don't tell my ladyfriend! Her profession was enchanting, and she'd be real made if she knew how many greens I kept from her.


More of me being a jokester. I came across a few people in Goldshire standing next to a dead body. I sassed them. The full text goes:

Me: Nobody move! There's been...A MURDER!
Me: You!
Me: Where were you on the night of 1 minute ago?
Bunkaii: I plead the 5th. I have the right to an attorney.
Me: The 5th Amendment to the Stormwind Constitution states: "I am super guilty!"

AREN'T I FUNNY!?


While killing elite ogres in Loch Modan, I ended up in a group with a trio of friends; Purpleburple, Flyingtator, and Honeydew. Much like my own trio, two of them were oldschool WoW players who had dragged a noob along with them when they joined Nostalrius. Our ogre-slaying mission was a resounding success, and I thoroughly enjoyed the company of all three of them. Before we broke group I invited them to <Doom and Tariffs>, and they accepted.

Our two groups meshed really well. We had a ton of great conversations in guild chat, with the sort of breezy back-and-forth that is rare to find in new people. I would have loved to spend more time with them, but they decided to reroll when the PvE server came out. It's a decision I totally understand, but not a switch I wanted to make myself. With Nost gone I'll probably never hear from them again, but wherever they are: ya'll were chill. Peace.

I have a certain pattern that I go through with WoW. First, I start playing the game again. It's been awhile since I've played, none of my mods work. I play the game for awhile without any mods, and it works alright. Inevitably, though, I start to get frustrated by the imprecision of the default UI. Particularly the action bars. The default WoW action bars and hotkey system is pretty good compared to other games of its type. But it's really lacking in a lot of ways.

Setting up Mods for Nostalrius was surprisingly simple, given that none of the usual sites offered mods that were compatible with this older version of the game. Somebody on the Nostalrius forums had filled their google drive account with old mods, and there was a pretty full array of options for download. Here I tried something new for myself. I assigned a lot of the keys I would normally use for game functions, including WASD, to in-game abilities. It took awhile to teach myself to move using only the mouse, but after a couple weeks it was second nature to me.

Not that I was a keyboard turner before; just that I usually still used WASD when I was running around in the world.

Also related to this screenshot is Stitches. The high population of Nostalrius meant that Stitches was on the road pretty much 100% of the time. He's really not that hard to avoid if you just pay attention to what you're doing, but dang. Plus, he glitched out about two thirds of the time, and never moved from the spot where he spawned. There were often multiple instances of Stitches standing on top of one another, running out to kill Abercrombie any time he popped up. Players would cluster around Abercrombie's hut, waiting. When he appeared, they'd run in to try and turn in their quests before Stitches killed him, and probably the player too.

This is another area where friendly high-level players helped out a lot, swinging by now and again to kill all the excess Stitches.



I am a PvE player at heart. I just don't have the reflexes or the spatial awareness that playing against other people requires. I am routinely bested by players who are several levels lower than me. Given that, you can imagine how not-ideal it was for me that Nostalrius was PVP-only for the longest time.

This is one of the few Honorable Kills I got the whole time I played. I would be shocked if I had more than 7 total kills across all three of my characters. I got pretty stoked about this one because the dude was a frost mage who was not only 3 levels higher than me, but actually ambushed me! I was at every disadvantage, so emerging as the victor was a singular event.

I was aware this guy was in my general area, and he was aware of me, but we were standing a fair distance apart killing different groups of mobs. It was my practice not to attack anyone. I assumed that a fair number of players, like me, just didn't want to deal with world PvP, so I never initiated it. I watched him stop to drink several times, and he always went back to killing mobs, so I figured I was safe from attack.
Then, just as I finished up a pull and was at pretty low health and mana, he frostbolted me outta nowhere. After that he made the mistake of sheeping me (thus restoring all my health), and breaking the sheep with a fairly weak spell. Another frost bolt or something. It was a close fight, but he made enough mistakes that even a scrub like me was able to get an HK off of him.

Of course, after this HK, he started following me around the zone and attacking me every time I was at low health. So he got me better than I got him. But I got him first.


OLD SHITTY ELF MODEL! YAY!

I love the choice to put a glass of wine in her hand, even though they couldn't get her to hold the glass upright. It looks delightfully ridiculous. 



One day I discovered I could /dance while I was on a griffon. It was the best day.


Shadowfang Keep is one of my favorite dungeons. It's got a cool macabre style. It's got an interesting vertical layout with the later sections of the dungeon overlooking the courtyard. The original Worgen narrative is easily one of the best stories told in early WoW, and SFK is a huge part of it. Plus, the fight with Arugal is spatially very interesting. Obviously the fact that it's a low level dungeon deep in Horde territory makes it unappealing for most alliance players, but I was happy that I was able to get a few groups together and tank it.

Although I have to say, the dungeon I was really looking forward to taking was Scholomance. I fucking love Scholomance. Proper, pre-fuckery Scholomance. In terms of interesting use of vertical space, Scholomance is probably the best example in all of World of Warcraft's history. Its visual style, narrative relevance, and general gravitas are unparalleled. It is my favorite WoW location. To this day I can draw detailed maps of it from memory, including mob placements and quest items.

I never reached a high enough level to see the inside of Scholo on Nostalrius, which is why I'm talking about it under a screenshot of SFK. The fact that I'll never get a shot at running Scholo on Nostalrius is one of the things that hurts the most now that Nost is gone. I was really looking forward to that.

Also, what the fuck is that green? Is it an intentional joke, or a ludicrous mistake?



Whassat?

Is that Stitches?

Whashe doin here?

This is Elwynn Forest. Stitches don't belong in Elwynn Forest.


ONO

THE LION'S PRIDE INN WILL BE DESTROYED!

SOMEONE STOP THIS MENACE!

OR, YA KNOW, TAKE HIM TO NORTHSHIRE. THAT'D BE FUNNY AS BALLS. 


Apparently it was during the Stitches attack that I decided it was time for me to get Sentai into the guild. Maybe I'd been waiting for someone to come online, and my sister just had. Not sure. Anyway, it didn't really occur to me at the time that she wouldn't recognize my name. But, of course, she didn't. So when I said "Invite me," she said "It's a friends and family guild, so no."

Because I'm an asshole it immediately occurred to me that this was a good opportunity to fuck with her. I decided to act like the biggest douchenozzle I could. I spent weeks harassing her anytime she was online at the same time I was playing Sentai. I got my girlfriend in on it too. She and I both told my sister that we had also been contacted by "some random asshole that wanted into the guild." This went on for a few weeks. It was good times.


Again, a few days later, me acting as douchy as possible. It physically hurts to type without regard for spelling or grammar, but it must be done in the name of the gaff!

I'm actually pretty impressed by how easily my sister brushed off my dickishness. Kids these days might be better at dealing with internet asshats than I was at their age. I used to constantly get embroiled in flame wars over dial up modem.


I'm not sure if this dude was being chill because he was a nice guy, or because we were close enough to the Ratchet town guards that he'd get his ass kicked if he tried anything.

Either way, we had a nice time. He fished, I drank. We /waved at one another. Best friends forever.


Gathering enough money to afford your first mount by level 40 is a big deal. It didn't help that one of Nostalrius' few flaws was its economy. Not only was the population higher than was ever intended for a single server, but the population was disproportionately skilled and knowledgeable. There was a surplus of people who knew exactly how to efficiently make money in WoW, and as a result, the economy got a little deflated. At least that's how it seemed to me, but to be fair I suppose my frame of reference for early WoW is actually Burning Crusade.

Anyway, fishing seemed fairly profitable compared to most of the other options. I'd never given fishing much thought before. It's a little boring, and I don't think any of my characters on live servers have a fishing skill above 25. But Firefin Snappers and Oily Blackmouths both sold pretty consistently, and brought in a decent little stack of coin. I started to spend a ton of time fishing while I listened to audio books or podcasts. I finally made it all the way through Candide while working the Northern coast of Dustwallow marsh.

I'm certain that Doctor Pangloss would agree that any world where Nostalrius no longer exist cannot be the best of all possible worlds.


Apparently, Nostalrius hosted some pretty epic city raids. Seeing as I didn't spend enough time on the forums to know when they were planned, I was never around to see any of them.

The most I ever saw were these four. They hung out in the Valley of Heroes for half an hour killing anyone who was PVP flagged.


When did the WoW devs stop understanding quests? They used to be more than just a tool to make leveling less of a grind. I mean, sure, that has always been their primary function. It was actually kind of a big deal when the game was first released. Earlier MMOs had quests here and there to break up the monotony, but players were expected to get most of their levels by grinding. WoW was notable for being the first MMO where you could level up entirely through doing quests. It was cool, but that wasn't their only purpose.

In the Vanilla game, quests connected you to who you were, and what you wanted to do. Sometimes you had to quest to get a class ability, like in this screenshot where Scaevola had to travel to a secret island and participate in a fighting tournament in order to learn Berserker Stance. And I'll never forget how rewarding it was when all my friends helped me complete the final steps of summoning my Dreadsteed, after questing for weeks to earn the opportunity. Or how cool it was to be one of the few Warlocks who went out of their way to learn how to summon a Doomguard.

Quests might be required to gain access to certain dungeons or raids. I worked for weeks to craft my Scholomance Key, and the group of friends who worked together to get keyed for Karazhan formed the basis of the raid group that would eventually conquer Karazhan. Quests would also be required to master a profession; it was no simple thing to become the greatest fisherman in the land!

Pretty much anything you wanted to do in the game, odds were that at some point you'd need to do a quest in order to reach the upper echelons of doing that thing. There was a certain grandeur to that, and it made you feel like a fucking badass. 

The modern game is a never ending stream of glossy cutscenes where NPCs constantly reassure you of what an amazing hero you are, and it all falls flat. Nine years ago I battled a demon lord with my friends by my side just to earn a fancy looking horse, and the memory of it still makes me feel cool.


This was the culmination of my little prank on my sister. While she was offline I had my girlfriend invite Sentaigresk to the guild, then I temporarily removed the ability for guild officers to /gkick. The next time I was playing Sentai and I saw my sister online, I made some casual comment in guild chat about not being able to complete a quest. She responded to it completely naturally, and for a minute I thought she hadn't recognized the name.

Then I get a message from her outside the game, telling me "that guy" somehow got into the guild, and that she can't seem to kick him. She seemed concerned that he might somehow have figured out how to get into the guild without an invitation. She asked me to log in and see if I could do it. I obliged, but of course, by the time "I" logged on, Sentaigresk had logged off.

She caught on pretty quickly after Sentai logged immediately back on, and we had a laugh about it. Most of the amusing conversation happened outside of the WoW client, so I don't really have any screenshots of it. All in all, it was a moderately successful goof. Huzzah!


The two Plaguelands (West and East) were always some of my favorite zones in the game. I love undead stuff, so they obviously had a lot of appeal for me just on that level. But even ignoring my personal bias, there was a lot to recommend them. In terms of foliage and architecture, Western Plaguelands resembles a lot of the low-level human zones. It's like a post-apocalyptic Elwynn forest. And Eastern Plaguelands is just weird, with unique monsters, encampments of cultists, some of the few examples of Scourge architecture, and a giant fungus forest!

I didn't make it to a high enough level to spend much time in either of those zones, so this is one of the few screenshots I have, while I was popping up to grab the flight path.


One day in October I logged in to discover all of my addon settings had been reset to defaults. That was a funny day.

Also, I love that the Nost team put in the extra effort to make holidays happen. I don't know how much of that was automatic, and how much they had to work on, but either way it was nice to see. I've got a lot of fond memories of Halloween and Christmas in WoW.


I spent so much time fishing that I was working my way through the 200s before Scaevola even hit level 40.  I got to the point where I actually needed to do the grand world-tour fishing quest that unlocks the Artisan levels of the skill. It's one of those cool gatekeeper quests I was talking about earlier.

"Nat Pagle, Angler Extreme" is a notable quest in another way as well: it was a travel quest. Like every other interesting thing, these have been phased out of WoW in the modern game. Apparently they too closely resemble a challenge to appeal to the people Blizzard thinks are their playerbase.

This quest requires you to travel to the four corners of Azeroth to complete it. Even with good knowledge of the places you need to go, and a well planned route, it takes over an hour to get the whole thing done. Of course it'd be annoying if every quest was like this, but every quest wasn't. When you got a quest like this, you knew it was a big deal. You weren't just killing the wolves that were pestering the farmer down the road, you were going on an epic, world-spanning journey. It was downright Tolkienesque.

Not only did quests like these feel big, but the travel gave you reason to wander and explore new corners of the world that you might have ignored otherwise. It made that world feel connected. Azeroth may be divided into zones, but the characters you met didn't view the world that way. Remember that quest in Lakeshire where the Mayor sends you to Stormwind, Westfall, and Darkshire to ask for aide against the encroaching orcs? He could do that because all three of those places are part of the same world that Lakeshire is part of. They're connected. It's a feeling I don't get from the modern game.

There's an old dragon quest. I think it starts from that wounded wyrmling in Upper Blackrock Spire. You have to go all the way to Winterspring and climb your way to the top of a tall mountain, where you meet a dragon disguised in blood elf form. You have a long conversation with the dragon, and when you are dismissed, she blasts you off the mountain. You fly into the air, and you hit a loading screen. When the loading screen ends, you fall into a lake in the Western Plaguelands. You flew through the air between two continents! That was so mind blowing for me that I've never forgotten it. 

I've done a lot of the post-Cataclysm quests. I'm not going to tell you they're not fun, because they are. They're flawed, but so were the old quests in their own way. And the Cataclysm quests are often witty, well written, and creative. But they just don't build the kind of cohesive world that the old Vanilla travel quests did. I don't really remember any of those newer quests as impressively as I remember talking to that one dragon.


My character was named for Gaius Marcius Scaevola, a legendary Roman hero. According to legend, while spying on an enemy camp that was besieging Rome, Gaius Marcius was captured and brought before the enemy commander. He was threatened with torture unless he betrayed Rome. Gaius Marcius stretched out his right hand into a nearby fire and held it there without flinching, demonstrating to the enemy commander the determination and power of the Roman spirit.

The enemy army withdrew, and Gaius Marcius was given the cognomen Scaevola. It means "Left Handed."


I can't believe I only have one screenshot of this day. It was a great day.

By this point, my sister's mage Penella had caught up with my girlfriend and I, so we decided to take a crack at Scarlet Monestary. We managed to grab a pair of dynamite DPS; Viziwiz the mage, and Xerci the Warlock. Not only did we tear through Graveyard and Library, but we managed to push on through Armory before calling it a night. It was a huge fuckin' success and I loved every minute of it. I felt like I was really reaching a point where good tanking was starting to matter, and my practice was paying off.

Both the pugs were fun people. Viziwiz, apparently, was playing over a dial up modem, but kept up with the rest of us handily. Xerci was clearly a highly skilled player, I imagine she had another character or two at max already doing raiding. At the end, Xerci said it was the first time in ages that she'd had any fun doing a dungeon. Both of them got added to my friends list and stayed there.  Although, Xerci was some kind of leveling machine. She gained 2-3 levels a day, and quickly left me way in the dust.

This Scarlet Monestary run would end up being the last time I was able to run a dungeon with my guild. A few days after this I tanked Razorfen Downs for a Pick Up Group, and that was the last dungeon I ran at all before Nostalrius shut down.


A lot of people have shared screenshots of Ironforge during Nostalrius' final days. They show the large number of people who gathered there to mourn the passing of our server. These screenshots have been held up as proof of our love and devotion to the game; and placed next to screenshots showing the deserted Ironforge of the live servers. A demonstration that no, we're not crazy, we're not fringe, there really is a problem here that Blizz has refused to acknowledge.

I thought it might be valuable to show that Ironforge was busy even when we weren't gathering together to mourn. This is from the 7th of November, 2015. Nothing special brought all those people here. That's just how many people hung out in Ironforge on a normal day.


This is the last screenshot I took before I heard the news. It's from November 8th, 2015. Fallout 4 came out on November 10th, and it took over my life for awhile. There was actually something of a stream of games that diverted my attention away from WoW. At the time, that didn't seem like too much of a problem. I somewhat naively thought Nostalrius would be there when I get back. It felt so polished and secure. It never occurred to me that the next time I logged on to do more than check my mail would be to bear witness the end.

I was eating a hot dog on the 9th of April when I learned that Nost would be shut down the following day. Without thinking I started to shout "no no no!" I ran to tell my ladyfriend and watched her face go through the same emotions I felt. Confusion, followed by slow comprehension and building despair. It was news that only got worse the longer we let it sink in. Every few minutes we'd remember some new thing that we would never be able to do, or something we had come to take for granted that would now be gone. Slowly all of these started to come to mind, and their loss added to the tragedy of the thing.

I logged on a few minutes after I heard. There were about 700 people online at the time. Seven hundred. It was sickening. Perverse, seeing Nostalrius in that state. The world was empty in anticipation of the coming blizzard. I briefly moved from character to character, looking them over for a final time.


Scaevola.

Level 37.

Played for 8 days, 19 hours.


McJibbins.

Level 30.

Played for 3 days.


Sentaigresk.

Level 25.

Played 2 days, 2 hours.


Scaevola was pretty close to a level, so I decided to grind out one last ding for old times sake. I don't know why I chose Arathi. My girlfriend noticed me and came out to be my pocket healer. It had been a few months, but I slipped right into it again. It felt good trying to hold aggro off her while I took on multiple mobs at a time. There's a nice challenge in it.

When I got close enough to my level, I asked her to leave the last one to me alone.




Scaevola. Level 38.

There was a real emptiness in that moment. She and I were both quiet. There was nothing left to do. Nothing else to push towards. Did we log off? Did it matter where we did it? I think she logged off then and there. My ladyfriend isn't really the sentimental type. Hortensa's life ended somewhere between the Arathi Basin and the Wetlands.

My sister later told me she took Cimilaia, the druid she'd rolled originally, back to Teldrassil. Ending it where it began.



These were meant to be my final screenshots. I've always loved Stormwind more than Ironforge. It's brighter, more attractive, and its layout is easier to parse. Its where I spent a lot of time with my friends back in the old days. Its where I spent countless hours wandering around aimlessly while I cracked wise in trade chat. It's where I met my ladyfriend some 9 years ago now. Every time I step into the valley of heroes and hear that chorus singing the Stormwind theme I fall in love with WoW all over again. It felt like an appropriate place to say goodbye to Gaius Marcius Scaevola for the last time.

The next day, my sorrow for the loss of this thing dominated my thinking. I was surprised by how deeply sad it made me to lose this game that I hadn't picked up in months. Part of me wants to feel embarassed about that, but no. WoW was always more about the people than it was about the game. It was the impetus and the sustenance of many of the most important relationships in my life. I refuse to diminish those relationships by saying that WoW was 'just a game.' I couldn't help but log back in the next day to see the server one final time. To be there for the final hours.

I'm so glad that I made that choice. The previous day, being on Nostalrius with only 700 people online had felt like being alone with a dead body. It was eerily quiet. It was a day of mourning. But the final hours were different. Thousands of people showed up for the end, to spit in the face of the gods of our digital world. 

One last time, we played together.







I've got at least a few dozen screenshots of these final moments, but you get the idea. There were too many people for the server to even load them in properly. If you moved a few steps, more people would load into view. The same thing was happening in Orgrimmar for the Horde.

Emotions were running high. Lots of folks talking about how much fun they'd had, and how much love they felt. I had whisper conversations with three different strangers where we wished one another good luck, and hoped to run into one another again some day.

To dust off an old Internet phrase, there were a lot of feels in the air, that final chilly evening in Dun Morogh.


This is the last screenshot I managed to get before I got kicked off the servers the last time.

/goodbye to you as well, Merzbow.
 /comfort, Warlockchamp.

Nostalrius is no more. The media coverage left in its wake has been both surprising, and encouraging. I had no idea our little community counted for quite so much. I was dumbfounded when my girlfriend woke me up from a nap by telling me that no less a figure than JonTron himself had posted a rant about the fate of Nostalrius.

In their immediate response, Blizzard acted like children. Of course they were already deleting any discussion of the situation from their official forums. That's part-in-parcel of the corporate cowardice we've come to expect from modern Blizzard. But they went even beyond that, ruthlessly attacking any mention of Nostalrius they could get at. They wrangled Twitch into giving one streamer a 24 hour ban for sharing the final gathering outside of Ironforge. Another Twitch stream, twitch.tv/YouThinkYouDoButYouDont was deleted outright.

It's all so senseless. Blizzard's version of the game has had rapidly declining subscriber numbers for years now. They've stubbornly ignored every criticism leveled against the game by the fanbase, and remain convinced that every iteration of the game is better than the last. Somehow they've failed to make the connection between ignoring criticism and losing subscribers. As though it's irrational to think doing things that people don't want you to do is going to cause people to stop being interested in what you do.

Back in 2004 when WoW was first becoming popular with my friends, I resisted. I didn't like the idea of MMOs because I didn't like the idea of a game that could be taken away from me or changed without my consent. 'I like Super Mario Brothers,' I said. 'Still, after 20 years, I go back and I play it. No one can ever take that away from me. If I play WoW, and I like it, what will I do when the servers shut down?' It's a dilemma I only overcame when a friend got me hooked by letting my play on his account. Now I'm seeing that ancient fear realized.

It's not as though there's not precedent for Blizzard doing the honorable thing here. Daybreak Games, the developer behind Everquest, fully embraces Project 1999, Everquest's own version of Nostalrius. Jaggex, the developer of Runescape, runs 2007scape themselves, a legacy version of their own game. Blizzard's customers have been begging for legacy servers since 2006 when Burning Crusade was released. In response we've gotten nothing but refusals and insults. After 9 years of watching the game become less and less playable, the community took the matter in their own hands. Much to Blizzard's embarrassment, this thing that they've refused to do ended up being successful. The graceful thing to do would be to embrace Nostalrius. They could have made arrangements with the Nost team, the way Project 1999 does. They could have put out their own competing Legacy servers and probably crushed Nost by providing reaching more people than a fan project ever could, with a polish that Nost never would have had.

I see a lot of people talking about how Blizz is perfectly within their rights to sue Nostalrius. How anybody who would play on a pirate server deserves what they get. In a sense there's a logic to this. Blizzard, legally, is within their rights. But lets not be so small minded as to conflate "within their legal rights," as "doing the right thing." The law is not morality.

I doubt Blizzard will ever see another cent of my money. This is not so bold of a statement as it might seem, since it has been years since Blizzard made anything that was even slightly interesting to me. For some reason, after 2009, everything they've put out has failed to catch my attention. It's all bland pap with a lot of polish and an infestation of microtransactions. I'm not making any big sacrifices in walking away from them.

But up to now, it has always been inevitable that I'd someday subscribe to World of Warcraft again. I still have some friends there, not the least of which is good ol' Sentaigrehsk himself. A couple times a year it was worth $15 to revisit Azeroth, even in its shitty modern state. And sure, I inevitably lose interest pretty quickly because there's nothing good to do, but after I unsubbed it was always just a matter of time before I went back. Not anymore.

I honestly don't know what it would take for Blizzard to earn me back as a customer. It would take more than an apology. I'm not interested in hollow words from some stooge in PR who drew the short straw. If you're actually sorry, you work to repair what you've done. To undo the damage. And it would take more than setting up their own Vanilla servers. That ship has sailed. They had almost a decade to set up legacy servers and they preferred to ignore and insult the vanilla-loving community. You don't get to burn down my favorite restaurant, then expect me to start patronizing yours just because you copied the menu of your arson victim. No. Fuck you.

Now, since I first started writing this essay, Blizzard has softened their position somewhat. They tried to ply us with "pristine servers," but that got shot down pretty hard and I doubt they're ever going to mention it again. Now they're actually talking with the Nostalrius team. The Nost guys are actually going to visit Blizzard HQ for a meeting in a few weeks. What will be discussed there, I don't know. Maybe they'll offer the Nost guys a job setting up official legacy servers? That might be enough to get me back as a customer. Perhaps they'll even discuss a Project 1999-style license, where Nost gets to continue to exist within certain guidelines. That would be my preferred outcome. Regardless, it looks like this story isn't through yet.

But let's not allow Blizzard to pretend this is an altruistic move. They did everything in their power to silence and ignore our community. The ONLY reason they're willing to talk with us now is because they failed to kill us. They don't get to swoop in after everything, tell us we can have what we want for $15 a month, and be treated like a hero. Blizzard is not our friend. It's just the company we have to deal with to get what we want.

#YouThinkYouDoButYouDont