The Gates of Ahn\u2019Qiraj is what I think of most when I reflect on my history with World of Warcraft. For those unaware, the Gates of Ahn\u2019Qiraj (also known as The Gong Event) was a server-wide event that required players on both the Alliance and the Horde to contribute literally tens of thousands of items to a NPC-driven War Effort to defeat the Silithid forces hiding behind the Gate. This was a multi-week long endeavor due to the high amount of resources needed \u2014 I distinctly remember each faction needing about 100,000 Copper Bars and 400,000 Cloth Bandages, for example. While non-raiding players contributed to these efforts, end-game raiders were focused on completing the Scepter questline. This questline was long, requiring you to not only clear some of the hardest content in the game at the time (Blackwing Lair at the time was a 40-man raid) as well as grind up reputation with a faction that hated you (Brood of Nozdormu), but also backpack across the entire game world collecting shards (each of which had their own associated quests.) The reward was worth it, however \u2014 players who completed the questline were able to secure a unique Epic Mount and title: Scarab Lord. Servers were organizing specific dates and times to \u201cbang the gong\u201d, because you could only turn in this questline within ten hours of the first gong-ringing. Screenshot by DoubleXP So why tell you all of that? Well, nothing before or since has resonated with me in such a way, from World of Warcraft to Final Fantasy XIV \u2014 and for good reason. Players who did not complete the questline, or joined a server after their gong had been rung, could never obtain these items. The world event shut down once the Gates of Ahn\u2019Qiraj were opened \u2014 and later, in the Cataclysm expansion, removed entirely from the game. It\u2019s a relic of a long-gone era, where players were working feverishly to complete an event that, after a few months, would no longer exist and no longer be obtainable. These memories of World of Warcraft make up the rich history of a game that many believe has been in a long, slow decline. Every expansion has a story that a veteran player can reminisce about: The Burning Crusade had the constant back and forth fighting on the Isle of Quel\u2019Danas, and The Wrath of the Lich King had the extremely popular Ulduar raid and Dalaran-wide Algalon defeat speech. Cataclysm changed the face of the world permanently, and Mists of Pandaria had some of the best side-quest writing and exploration in World of Warcraft to date. Unfortunately, shortly after that, my journey with World of Warcraft ended \u2014 and the decline mentioned above is argued to have begun. The expansion following Pandaria, Warlords of Draenor, promised a return to locales from The Burning Crusade, only in an alternate timeline before Draenor became Outland. In this expansion, the farming system introduced in Mists of Pandaria grew into a base management system labeled \u201cGarrisons\u201d, allowing the player to gather resources and delegate missions to collectable units. This had the unfortunate side-effect of removing the player interaction part of an MMO, as players rarely had a reason to leave their Garrisons except to go raiding or PVP\u2019ing. The world felt dead and lifeless, even though the expansion sold very well at launch \u2014 and this general sense of lifelessness drove me from World of Warcraft entirely. Screenshot by DoubleXP Seven years later, I\u2019ve returned to Azeroth to see what\u2019s going on. In what is rapidly becoming a world tour of MMOs, in 2022 I\u2019ve gone from being a Warrior of Light in FFXIV, to a Vestige in Elder Scrolls Online, and now back to my roots as a Champion of Azeroth. How does modern World of Warcraft stack up to nostalgia? To other MMOs that I\u2019ve spent the past decade of my limited life on this Earth enjoying? The thought buried itself in my brain like an Old God whispering madness-inducing messages. Even though my old account is gone (RIP my old Troll Hunter), I still figured it would be best to experience modern WoW from a fresh account\u2019s perspective. Prior to my departure, the newbie leveling experience was to go through your starting race\u2019s area in Cataclysm-affected zones, then head to Outland and Northrend, before returning back to Cataclysm and eventually Mists of Pandaria. This was confusing at best, and painful at worst, because you would be jumping around in the timeline and forced to go through outdated content before getting to the modern stuff. Thankfully, leveling a new character has never been simpler than it is nowadays. When creating a new character, you are given the option to experience a short story related to your faction choice that guarantees you\u2019ll reach level 10 before it finishes \u2014 or you can choose to experience your race\u2019s Cataclysm starting zone before heading off to any of the past expansions. Leveling is extremely fast \u2014 as of this writing, I am level capped at 60 with only ~48 hours total playtime. Within two days of starting, I am playing with friends near the end-game \u2014 something you cannot do in Final Fantasy XIV unless you purchase a level-skip and story-skip potion. Screenshot by DoubleXP The writing in Shadowlands isn\u2019t unsalvageable, but you can definitely see where the story feels compressed and needs to be fleshed out \u2014 or just generally lacks closure. The entire history of WoW is beyond the scope of this article, so in short \u2014 Sylvanas (previous Forsaken leader and Warchief) ripped open a portal to the afterlife and struck a deal with the devil to seek the end of death itself. It\u2019s definitely more than a little weird discovering that a \u201chero\u201d I\u2019ve been familiar with for most of my childhood is now a villain, but it wasn\u2019t an unwelcome swerve \u2014 however, the climax and resolution to this is so bewilderingly awful I\u2019m not entirely sure who greenlit it. Final Fantasy XIV\u2019s Ascian storyline took years to develop and finish with Endwalker, but throughout those years you were constantly chumping out Ascians and solving problems, while also unlocking additional hints and answers to the Grand Questions regarding them. They provided closure when necessary to advance the overall plot \u2014 the deaths of Moenbryda, or Haurchefant, or even Papalymo were done in service of solving both immediate problems and progressing the story. Meanwhile, the Sylvanas plotlines feel like the writers do not know who or what they want Sylvanas to be. Instead of closing the book on this character, they opted for \u201cmisguided error and redemption\u201d as an easy out for someone who committed literal crimes against humanity. Steven Messner of PCGamer said it best: \u201cit starts to feel like Blizzard is stalling in the absence of having a story worth telling.\u201d Moving on, the systems introduced in Shadowlands, such as Torghast (a rogue-lite mini-game) and the Covenants (which are upgradable factions that confer faction-specific bonuses) offer a form of customization to players \u2014 as well as a way to make those numbers go up. They\u2019re engaging at first, but like most World of Warcraft systems, require you to log in and complete quests daily to get benefits over time. That\u2019s possibly the biggest part about World of Warcraft that I dislike \u2014 if I don\u2019t log in daily (or hell, even weekly) in Final Fantasy XIV, I don\u2019t really miss out on much. Yoshi P regularly expresses the sentiment that the FFXIV development team wants players to play Final Fantasy XIV when they feel like it \u2014 \u201cIt's alright not to play it everyday.\u201d he stated in a Q&A session at Gamescom years ago. World of Warcraft, on the other hand, demands your daily attention, and doesn\u2019t always justify the demand. Screenshot by DoubleXP The sound design and music in World of Warcraft feels as it always has \u2014 it gives a sense of suspenseful exploration and the booming bass swells when you delve into dungeons and raids grant some urgency and tension. Unfortunately, it doesn\u2019t leave the deep imprint that Soken and team at FFXIV tend to leave with almost every single track. To this day, outside of the World of Warcraft title themes, I cannot think of a zone, dungeon, or encounter where I can remember the specific in-game track. Meanwhile, I can sing Wayward Daughter and Equilibrium from memory. These songs are created specifically for individual boss encounters, each telling a story in addition to the story from the fight, and it leaves lasting impacts on those that experience them in-game. It shows in the fight design as well. This is footage from the latest (as of this writing, at least) Final Fantasy XIV encounter to come out \u2014 Dragonsong\u2019s Reprise, an ultra-hard raid that most players will never complete. Genuinely look at the player positions and timings: each of the eight players has a role, a position they have to be in, and it stays fluid throughout each stage of the fight. It\u2019s like a waltz \u2014 sometimes they mis-step, and when they do they pay a penalty. But when it comes together, it looks fantastic, even if you have no idea what\u2019s going on. Compare that to footage from the latest raid in Shadowlands. This is a world first clear for The Jailer (Mythic), and the differences could not be more apparent. Players often do not have a mechanic or role they must immediately and continuously \u201cdance\u201d to \u2014 while some have to fall into holes to prevent raid-wipes or move out of void zones, it\u2019s less of a waltz and more of a two-step. Note that this isn\u2019t a commentary on difficulty \u2014 I guarantee you most players will not clear Mythic Jailer either, myself included \u2014 but instead a comment on the differences in fight design and pacing. FFXIV is a little more slowed down, but deeply involved whereas World of Warcraft is faster-paced, yet less involved at times. None of this is irredeemably bad, mind you, and is mostly a difference in taste \u2014 the fight design and overall tenor of gameplay of World of Warcraft feels like it always has. It\u2019s like returning home, in a way. Even if you move on and try to leave things behind, you almost always return to your roots, just to see what\u2019s still around and what\u2019s changed. Perhaps that\u2019s one reason players generally feel disgruntled at World of Warcraft. Everything feels the same. Seven years of being away from Azeroth and it\u2019s like I really haven\u2019t left at all. Imagine playing the game non-stop since 2005, and you can see what nearly 20 years of playing the same game ends up feeling like. Screenshot by DoubleXP There are other issues \u2014 obviously no article about WoW is complete without mentioning the deep, systemic and horrible discrimination and sexual harassment stories. The recent investigations of these atrocities have put a general feeling of unrest about Activision-Blizzard in the air. Combined with alleged labor violations and a potential buyout from Microsoft, and you\u2019ve got a lot of pressure on a development team from managerial forces mostly beyond their control. Gameplay-wise, Covenants are an interesting mechanic on paper, but in practice some Covenants are better than others if your goal is min\/maxing your character. The removal of player choice in service of doing the highest numbers is always unfortunate. There also was apparently a 7-month long content drought, something I have never heard of in any live-service game that wasn\u2019t on life-support or on its way out the door \u2014 and in a game that emphasizes the end-game grind, I cannot imagine players were happy with how the drought ended. In fact, I don\u2019t have to imagine \u2014 they quit in droves to go play Final Fantasy XIV. In preparation for Dragonflight, the next expansion to come for World of Warcraft, I plan on sticking around in Azeroth for a while. I\u2019m truly hoping the ActiBlizz developers can right the ship and bring back some good will to players \u2014 scale down the power creep in fantasy writing and focus on telling a good story with interesting gameplay elements. As much as I\u2019m a Warrior of Light, I\u2019m also a member of the Horde \u2014 and I\u2019d hate to see a game I once loved as much as World of Warcraft get memorialized as poorly as it is right now.