Let me preface this article by setting the scene. Back in February of this year, I was raiding on my paladin with a fairly successful guild. Not anything special, but we had normal Nighthold on farm, and were working our way through Heroic - from looking at the Armory we'd made it to 6/10. Not world first, for sure, but not too shabby either. I was playing my paladin tank, and you can see for the time that I was decently geared on what was a pretty new character. Then, towards the end of February, work got really hectic. I couldn't make it to raids any more with that guild, and my casual/social guild had pretty much stopped playing by then, so I stopped too.
That means I've been away from WoW for give or take 7 months. I made a couple of half hearted attempts to come back, spent an evening doing skirmishes on my restoration shaman, logged into my Priest, did some Broken Shore opening quests on my Paladin. But that's about it.
That said, I should be a pretty good prospect as a returning player. I'm a long-time subscriber. I've been around since TBC, and while my level of activity in the game has inevitably ebbed and flowed over the past decade, I've been pretty dedicated. Dedicated enough that knowing stuff about WoW was my full time job (WoW Insider, Gamebreaker, Wowhead, the BBC) for about 3 years, and then I went to work at Blizzard on WoW esports. Dedicated enough to have had one of each class at max level multiple times in WoW's history. What's more, I've only been away for 7 months, and as someone who used to work on Wowhead, I am well equipped to use that amazing resource to help me through the difficult reintroduction.
So, let's go. I've updated my addons, downloaded ElvUI again, and we're off. I'm going to be documenting this as I go, then editing later. I'm jumping in on my Paladin, because she's the most geared character I have, currently at 891ilvl. I'm aware that this 7 month break means that I'm almost impossibly far behind on the artifact weapon progress that is Legion's equivalent of Garrisons--only worse as it's directly tied to character power. I will likely not be able to find a tank spot in a similar guild to the one I had in March until 8.0 appears, so I should focus on what I can do, rather than what I can't, if I have a hope of enjoying this at all.
I hop in, and I immediately receive a breadcrumb to go to Argus. Alright, game, I appreciate this suggestion, but I don't have flying yet and I'd really like to resolve that absence. I love flying, and I've heard vaguely that it's been made easier to get the annoying reputation and completion rewards in 7.3, so I'm moderately excited. I set my pally on a flight path to Meredil, and check out Wowhead's 'Pathfinder' tool - the one that shows you how far you are from Flying. I'm a little confused when I do, as I was sure that I needed Suramar rep, but it seems that I have that all set, and actually lack quest completion for Suramar and Highmountain. Then I recall that the issue was I needed Suramar rep to unlock the last quests for the achievement, and that's what they fixed. Glad I keep up on the news!
I land in Meredil, run around for a bit looking for the entrance to the place there, and immediately pick up a quest to get me started on the missing "A Change of Seasons" part of the achievement. So far so good. I run around inside the cave place, and then get a quest to "activate all the leylines".
I vaguely remember that they're underground, and annoying, so check Wowhead comments, and indeed some good soul has put in TomTom waypoints. I consider how fortunate it is that I know what TomTom is, and what a waypoint is, and plug the first one I don't have in, then head over. I quickly realise I need 1800 Ancient Mana, I have 795, so need to make sure I'm collecting it as I move around.
Ancient Mana collection is frustratingly slow, and I wish I hadn't had to give some to Valtrois to unlock quests. The Falanaar Leylines are annoying to find, underground caves are tricky things. Getting out of the spider cave is even more annoying, and the game's indicators of where I need to go are consistently wrong. This is tiresome. As I look around for Leyline Feed Fragments and Ancient Mana, I reflect on how this is meant to make me see the world, while actually all it's doing is making me irritated by the world design. The world, at this stage, is an inconvenience that's getting in my way. All in all it takes me about 1hr 20 to get all the leylines done.
Moving on to the next set of tasks, I'm dreading going to the absurdly un-navigable city of Suramar. Fortunately, I remember there is an addon called Telemancy, and port myself to the Twilight Vineyards. Slowly chipping away at the Chronarch Defenders, I remember how the devs said they'd nerfed tank damage. It hasn't made the world more scary, I'm at no risk of death, it's just made this more annoying. It only takes me around 20 minutes to kill off the 4 guys, and I whistle (glad I remembered that existed) then head back to hand the quest in to Valtrois.
Then I realise I should have picked up Flow Control, and back to Suramar I go. Whoever decided this city doesn't need a proper map deserves some stern words. Closing the Flow things takes 10 minutes, but now there's no breadcrumb. Looking at Wowhead, I realise I need "Bring Home the Beacon". I puzzle for a moment, then read a comment that tells me to feed mana to Oculeth. This would take double the time without Wowhead. Maybe even more. It's a great resource, but also shows how much better Blizzard could do at quest flow and discoverability of all these damn caves. The story ends in a very boring scenario, like a less fun version of a Proving Ground, and at last, I am a Good Suramaritan.
I look at the list of things I have left to do in Part One, and all it is is Highmountain. The zone with all the impassable hills. The zone which I didn't do the story for, because I didn't want to. The zone I already rejected, and yet have to revisit, despite it being two patches out of date. The zone where flying would be the most useful. I lose patience and log off.
Overall, this first session back was not so terrible. Suramar is an annoying zone, the characters are flat and uninteresting, the story is disjointed and nonsensical. But, I was mostly able to find my way, thanks to Wowhead. From the 10,000 foot view, I wish there was a way I could get Flying while also experiencing the new zones, rather than being stuck retreading ground I've already trod. I've done a ton of Highmountain world quests, just not the main storyline. I would be more excited to discover new places and work towards flying, than I am to go back to 7.0 and 7.1 content.