The Zombiepocalypse, One Year On
This time last year in WoW, we were fighting for our lives. Or, maybe running for our lives might’ve been more appropriate. Our towns and cities were overrun by gigantic hordes of shambling, terrifying zombies, and they only wanted one thing…braaaaaiiiinnnnss.
Yep. Last year, in the runup to Wrath of the Lich King, Blizzard decided to give us a world event we’d never forget. Forget the 2008 recycle of the 2006 Naxxramas opening event, where you got to go out to various zones and then get camps of undead stolen from you so you couldn’t get those l33t [Jockstraps of Undead Slaying]. No, Arthas had a little more in mind this time than sitting there and waiting for us to smash up some crystals and scream at people for jacking our mobs.
Remember how it started? Boxes of tainted food started appearing, mysteriously, in towns. And then came the zombies…well, OK, ghouls, but they were called zombies, because zombies are cooler than ghouls. If a zombie bit you, or you messed with a food box, or you splattered a tainted bug or rat, you got cooties. If you didn’t get cured by the time the cootie timer ran out, you became a zombie, with a whole new set of abilities…including having to fight nearly-constantly or your health would drain away and you’d die. Zombies aren’t exactly known for just standing around and chillaxin’, y’know? They feel the need…the need to feed.
At first, the disease timer was 10 minutes and it was easy to cure…no worries. Then the disease timer dropped to 5 minutes, and then two minutes, and then one minute. By that time, it was World War Z time, baby. There were zombies everyfrickinwhere, man. Cities became deathtraps as guards and NPCs got zombified by the dozens. Death and undeath were spread across Azeroth and Outland.
And just like that, it was over. Grand Apothecary Putress came up with the cure, and the Argent Dawn delivered it…and all that was left was to clean up the streets of Orgrimmar and Stormwind, burn the bodies, and count the cost.
There’s no doubt that Blizzard absolutely swung for the fences with what we’ve termed the “Zombiepocalypse.” This was not just another holiday, or some optional event for certain levels. This was specifically designed to get the point across that the Lich King wants your ass dead. Yes, you. And he doesn’t much care about your daily quest grind or your current assignment to retrieve eight [Bear Asses] for some idiot in Thelsamar. This is total war, son.
There’s also no doubt that the Zombiepocalypse was the most contentious and divisive world event Blizzard’s ever done. It affected almost everyone who played during that week last October, whether you wanted to be affected or not. The only way to “opt out” was not to play. The potency of the disease in the last few days, plus the ease of catching and spreading it, made Hakkar’s old Corrupted Blood look like a minor sniffle. You either loved the Zombie Invasion of 2008, or you hated it. There was no in between.
Well, except for me. I can find the in-between on anything. (Yes, I am the world’s only wishy-washy tank.)
Let’s take a look at the bad, and then the good, that came out of the Zombiepocalypse, and what lessons Blizzard can hopefully take away from it for any world-shattering–literally–events they may want to try for Cataclysm’s ramp-up. First, the bad:
– Griefing. The Zombiepocalypse proved that there’s a population of people on every server who are nothing but raving assholes who get a good laugh out of ruining other people’s fun…but can’t handle it when their own plans get thwarted. Stories ran rife of groups of level 70 player zombies tearing a swath through newbie towns, infecting the guards, causing level 1-5 characters to get one-shotted again and again. Questgivers and flightmasters were dead or undead for extended periods. Auction house bombing (run into an AH and zombie-explode, thus infecting everyone around) became an art form. Protests from the affected parties brought forth streams of “lololol cry more noob.” And yet, when a paladin or priest would “fight back” by actually, y’know, cleansing the disease off the zombie, oh, the four- and five- and twelve-letter bombs that flew from the newly de-zombified! Newsflash, Griefer Boy: If you get to run around and make life miserable for level 10s, then we get to cure you back from zombie form into douchebag form, even though your spelling and grammar is better when you’re screaming “braaaaiiiinnnnsss lol.” Yes, I know the event was designed to force people out of a comfort zone–I get that (see below). But like every other thing that griefers get a hold of, many times, zombiedom was turned into nothing more than an excuse to be a dong.
– Non-consensual PvP. Here you are, Joe Noob, level 11 mage, rolling around Westfall wondering why the hell Old Blanchy can’t just graze her own oats and HAY WTF LEVEL 70 ZOMBIE ZOMG I’M DED. Zombies, see, know not of your PvP flags. A zombie could attack, and be attacked by, anybody, anytime. They were, effectively, their own faction…and you were always flagged to them. Don’t want to PvP? Tough toenails. If a player zombie wants to PvP with you, you can outrun him, yeah, because he’s a zombie, but other than that, you’re PvPing regardless.
– Shattrath. Nowhere did the problems with the event loom larger than Shattrath City. Shattrath, of course, is a Sanctuary–no PvP combat allowed. This included zombies. Which means that once a player turned into a zombie, they were, for all intents, immune from attack from other players. Similarly, player zombies could not infect other players directly…but they could chain the infection among the hordes of Aldor and Scryer and refugee NPCs running around, and those NPC zombie swarms could zombify or kill a player in short order, because of the additive nature of zombie bites–the more you get hit, the more it cuts the timer down. As long as the player zombies could find the occasional NPC to nomnomnom, there wasn’t a damned thing zombie-fighters could do to stop the root cause of the problem. It was a gaping hole in the “ruleset” for Zombiepocalypse, if you will, and it was exploited to the utmost.
– Melee need not apply. That week was an awesome time to be a priest, or especially a paladin. Everybody snuggled up close to you because, hey, hordes of undead are what you live for, right? You can heal the sick, or you can protect the innocent, or you can just ret up and kick massive zombie ass. Well, conversely, trust me, it was a shitty time to be a warrior. The last couple days of the plague, the infection timer was a mere one minute…and each zombie bite cut it down by something like ten seconds. Just a few nibbles and you were a zombie, whether you wanted to be or not. There was no place for warriors in particular (although I’m not sure shamans could clear it off themselves, or if rogues could CoS out of it). Even if I had a paladin behind me spamming cleansing on me while fighting a zombie horde, all it’d take is one resist or one lag spike, and poof, Zombiepanzercow. I had really wanted to play Linedan through the end of the Zombie Invasion, but it quickly became so obviously pointless that my fearless Panzercow ended up not logging on for the last two days of the fight. Beltar, my dwarf hunter, became my primary character, and I had a much better time.
Now, all that said, do I think Zombiepocalypse was a failure? Hell no. Here’s the good stuff:
– Arthas wants to eat your face. Nothing drives home the fact that Arthas is the Big Bad like having your entire city overrun by brain-eating zombies. We, as players of WoW (especially if we never played any of the Warcraft RTS games, as I didn’t), will never really feel the despair and desperation of the Third War, of the loss of Lordaeron and Stratholme and Darrowshire, the scouring of the Ghostlands and Eversong and the desperate stand at the gates of Silvermoon. That one week, a week of increasing disruption and violence and vicious fighting in the streets, is the closest we’ll get. If you’re a bit of a lore nerd like I am, that alone makes putting up with the negatives a ton easier.
– The RP was awesome. Since I ended up on my dwarf for most of the latter half of the Zombiepocalypse, I ended up fighting in Stormwind along with his guild, the Wildfire Riders. And there was crazy fighting going on. The zombie-lovers were constantly infecting the Trade District and Old Town. There were pitched battles in the streets all that last night, literally for hours. Zombies were popping out of every building as vendors got infected. The “front” shifted constantly, from the Trade District to the Harbor to Old Town and back to the Trade District. We gave it a name…”The Longest Night.” And the roleplay and stories that came out of the last night of the event still resonate among us to this day, so much that we’re having a little in-game get-together soon to remember the night that the Pig and Whistle became Old Town’s last redoubt against the forces of undeath.
– You got to be a zombie! I had a rule of thumb. I’d fight like hell against any zombie I saw, but if they got me, they got me fair, and I proceeded to go all-out as a zombie. (My exception was Shattrath…the situation was so screwed up there thanks to the Sanctuary rules, I’d just go off in a corner and suicide.) Why not? Being a zombie, if you’re reasonable about it, is hella fun. You can control NPC zombies, you can lurch around yelling “BRAAAAAIIIIINS,” you eat tasty human fase to regain health. What’s not to like about it?
– Beltar got to pretend he was Bruce Campbell. Sort of. Shooting zombies in the middle of the Trade District while ripping off one-liners in /say? Hell yeah.
I really hope that Blizzard has something as epic as the Zombiepocalypse planned for the Cataclysm rollout. I just hope that if they do, they take a hard look at what went wrong last year (and there was a lot) and don’t just dismiss the legitimate complaints as “a bunch of noob carebear whiners,” like a lot of the forum idiots do. Obviously you can’t have something like this without disrupting people’s play, at least some. But with some thought, they should be able to at least mitigate some of the griefing and make it more enjoyable for more people, of all levels.