The first time I ever heard of a little game called World of Warcraft my personal gaming experience up until that point had not prepared me for just what I was going to experience when I first got my hands on the game at a friend’s house in the early months of 2005. Aside from my dabbling in Final Fantasy VII, role-playing games were a mostly foreign concept to me and the extent of my gaming online included one Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds match with a French player over my dial-up connection and some Aliens versus Predator games on the school network we weren't supposed to be using. So, even before I’d finished creating my Dwarf warrior and entered the world of Azeroth I had no idea that I was about to have my mind thoroughly and completely blown away.
What immediately struck me about World of Warcraft the moment I had control of my character is that I was standing in a camp surrounded by NPC’s and enemy mobs but no one was yelling at me to go forward and achieve an objective. Sure, there were quests, but if I wasn’t going to be punished for wandering around, surely it wouldn’t hurt to just explore a bit, right? I soon found myself heading up the hill towards what I hoped would be something interesting when I ran into my first real player: a Dwarf Paladin sitting atop his ram wearing wild looking armor and waving. We exchanged a few words and he handed me several bags so that my journey would be easier down the road (I had no idea why I needed more bags, but it would be a gesture I'd appreciate down the road when I played the game properly). Happy with my first encounter with a real person, I trudged on.
What followed was nearly two hours of exploring the world of Azeroth, on foot, ignoring quests and all indicators that I should level and actually, you know, play the game. There were no obvious walls or locked doors blocking me from advancing and I had yet to run into a single loading screen. As far as I was concerned, World of Warcraft was one big fantasy world exploring simulator and I was Azeroth’s latest Ferdinand Magellan.
Sadly, my decision to ignore the game’s veiled warnings that I was going too far soon caught up to me when I was viciously ambushed by a series of crocodile like beasts almost immediately upon entering what the map called “The Wetlands.” Dead and so very far from where I had begun hours ago, I logged off and left the game untouched until a week later when I actually tried leveling a character. Several more years would then pass before I would seriously start playing the game on my own and take part in end game content.
Looking back now, after having recently cancelled my account only a few months into the Cataclysm expansion, I still fondly remember just how amazing it was when I first encountered the world that Blizzard had lovingly created for us players. Even now, Outland, Northrend, and the world altering changes of Catalysm never ceased to amaze me when I simply stopped to look around and appreciate just how big it really is. I even took the time to complete the Explorer achievements multiple times to fulfill that desire to see it all that I once had. Nothing, however, will compare to how I felt the day I stood before the massive twin statues in the Valley of the Kings, their faces carved into the very stone on the sides of the valley, and realize that I was truly experiencing a whole new world.