I've been meaning to write about the latest World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclysm, for quite a while now. Earlier today, my druid finally hit the new level cap. I almost feel a little like I cheated, given that my last level and a half of experience up to level 85 was gained almost entirely by levelling up the almost entirely superfluous secondary skill, Archeology.
I say 'entirely superfluous', but there is a certain satisfaction to flying from one corner of the world to another, digging up artefacts and fossils - and it's not like it's a shortcut compared to questing - getting the NINE MILLION XP to level up from 84 to 85 still took me a good twelve hours of playing time over the course of a couple of weeks, though you could argue that it's the no-brainer alternative to conventional questing.
I do have to admit that one of the reasons that I chose to level my character this way was that I wanted to save the majority of the Cataclysm quests until I had hit the level cap, so that I could basically rake in a massive amount of money to fund my alternate characters. My original plan was to use the money to get Sharéth her Riding skill mastery, but it wasn't necessary in the end, given that I made a shed-load of money selling Heavy Knothide Leather in the auction house, while I was pursuing Outland-vintage reputation quests in Coilfang Reservoir for the Cenarion Expedition and doing dailies on Netherwing Ledge to finally get my Onyx Netherwing Drake - a flying mount that I'd been nerd-lusting over for a good five years... After nearly three weeks's worth of daily quests, I finally earned the reputation to get it, and it was worth every second of time invested. Perhaps even more so than the hours spent in Coilfang grinding the rep (and the 1600 gold) to get my Cenarion War Hippogryph. So far, so 2006, you might think - but I've always taken the long-term view, with regard to playing WoW. Now that I'm at the new level cap, some of the Wrath of the Lich King instances are on the table now for soloing - such as The Nexus and Utgarde Keep, which will help out my two main alts immensely (Level 75 Hunter and Level 70 Mage, respectively).
World of Warcraft may be an easy target these days for the "cool" gaming hardcore, but in my mind it still stands up as an outstanding piece of game design and interactive entertainment. Whatever its technical flaws, and even what some might call an iterative design philosophy (of incremental improvement, rather than revolutionary steps forward), I can't see myself stopping playing it anytime soon.