Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls: Death in Warcraft

Even the Dead Can Die

I thought it would be fun to share my own personal experiences with the nuts and bolts of the game.  Namely, the nature of death in this fantasy realm.  It’s always been a strange mix of not wanting to offend, not wanting to punish fairly but not harshly and hoping that people just go with it and not ask questions.  Some of this leads to some pretty strange results when you think about it too long, and  one incident in particular that happened to me has got me very confused – and it’s one you can try at home! But don’t try to explain it to your folks, they’ll look at you funny and then you’ll meet the men in the white suits.  And that is never fun unless you’re a fan of hospital grade Jello.  What am I talking about?  Well, how about dying when you’re dead?

Yes.  You heard me right.  Warcraft has never been one to paticularly concerned with the nature of what happens when you die.  If you were a hero in Warcraft III, all you needed was a shrine or altar built and some resources and then BAM! You’re back and fighting. While I would address the concern of why exactly do you need gold and LUMBER to perform a rite to ressurect the dead?  I mean, I’ve heard of using gold.  That’s a common one.  Hell, drop some GP in Dungeons  & Dragons and your friend’s toe nail is now a whole person again.  But the wood as me intriqued.  My first inclination would be a druidic component to the ritual, but I can’t think of any druids that would get all gung ho about chopping down trees to help people.  In fact, they actually go to war with people over that.  Just ask the Warsong clan.  But the real point is that in the Warcraft universe death isn’t exactly permenant, it’s merely a set back…   what?…  No. I’m not going to…   I can say the words “set back” without making a Kael’Thas joke.

World of Warcraft is even stranger in terms of how death works.  The afterlife is just a greyscale version of the world, with a big swirly thing in the sky (which makes an amazing screensaver) and there’s now two ways to come back to life, neither of which require wood in any form.  You can either just run back to where you died and pop back up (which really says to me that Hero units in WC3 were just lazy) or you can make a deal with an angel to come back to life at the cost of damaging your gear and your stats.  That one kinda confuses me.  Even if we were to subscribe to the dogma that is “The Light” or even Titan worship in some regions…  or whatever the heck orcs believe happens to you when you die (No clue here.  Orc Valhalla or something.) – where do angels come in to any of this?  While yes, the Light worship was originally a typical Christian monotheistic faith back in Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, it hardly has maintained that form.  However, angels show up in a few other places in the game like Wyrmrest Temple and Karazhan.

Okay, I’ll give them angels.  How about this: Why does it take a ‘Deal with the Devil’ like making you useless for 15 minutes or breaking your equipment to get your flesh back?  Am I the only one whose starting to think that the Spirit Rezzers and extremely un-fantastic afterlife may be pointing to another supernatural force other than ‘The Light’?  Hmm? Maybe one whose rooting for the opposite team?  I dunno…  THE BURNING LEGION? I mean, what force for good in the cosmos would have broken my gear and brought me to my knees before sending me back to fight for them?  Perhaps they are not as eager to see us suceed as they would like.

Most of this is just a mechanical thing to make death mean something but without brutally punishing the player to the point that they wasted their time.  You don’t lose experience, you don’t lose all your fancy epics, and it doesn’t trivialize the nature of failure.  You can’t just keep running back out over and over until you killed it without it costing you something.  Death provides other mechanically benefits, like ensuring that boundries are maintained in the game environment.  No one wants to fall off the edge of Outland and keep falling forever into the endless void of the Twisting Nether. It keeps people from attempting to swim from Kalimdor to the Easter Kingdoms and back.  And who doesn’t have fun in Northrend seeing how much of the Frozen Sea they can cut through without going fatigued when traveling along the southern coast?

But it’s those types of mechanics that has resulted in one of the funniest and oddest moments involving the death mechanics of WoW that I’ve ever run into. This was back during one of the world events, I don’t exactly recall which one.  But my Blood Elf, Exil, was making her run for Darnassus.  I figured instead of messing with the boat, that I would try to swim from the tip of Darkshore to Teldrassil.  Unfortunately, you can’t make it.  I got fatigued out and figured that much like falling off into the Nether I would find myself back at the graveyard instead of the ghost world.   Nope!  I was a ghost, running back to my body, which was in the middle of the ocean to a point where you fatigue and die.

This is where the story gets weird, I tried to run back and get my body, and to my surprise my ghost got the fatigue meter. I mean, I’m a ghost.  No skin, no bone, and no muscle.  What the heck is getting tired?  My ethereal form?  So I assume that the meter will just run down and then I can keep going to my body with an empty fatigue meter and then hop back in and swim some more.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  Sixty seconds later and I’m starting at the picture you see before you.  A dead ghost.  What madness is this?  The ghost ran to death? I had to sit there with a slack jaw and stare at the oddity of mechanics and metaphysical implications before me.  The best part is that since this is mechanical in nature, it’s completely repeatable.  Go ahead, log in and try it sometime.

So there you have it.  You don’t need an excorcist to kill a ghost.  No need to use silver weapons or cast a complicated spell.  Just get them to run.  They’ll run so far that they’ll fall down dead. At least I didn’t have to drag 500 pieces of lumber out to the middle of the ocean to resurrect myself.

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