The other day, I came to a realization: in World of Warcraft, I enjoy “visiting” old zones from time to time. The music (yes, I’m one of the few who listen to the actual music) takes me back to wherever I was in my life when I first spent a lot of time there. Since I’ve been playing the game, off and on, for well over five years, I’m not just looking back to last week. I enjoy a bit of nostalgia now and then.
…Except when it comes to Vashj’ir. I can’t stand going back there. In fact, I have achievements that remain unfinished because I haven’t been able to drag myself back – and as someone who gets no small amount of satisfaction from achievements, that’s saying something.
For those unfamiliar with WoW, these four words might explain everything: it’s a water level.
Am I the only one who really can’t stand water levels? I consider myself a fairly easygoing person, but when confronted with a water level I instantly start whining. In pretty much any game, from any vintage.
I can think of precisely two games that feature water and didn’t make me want to claw my own eyes out: The Little Mermaid and Ecco the Dolphin. Both games were initially played on my Sega Game Gear. Both games took place exclusively in water, which I think makes all the difference. When a game has been designed to be aquatic, you either enjoy it from the get-go or get out early. I loved Ecco, even if I was a mammal and thus forced to find air every few minutes.
In other games, though, water levels just bring everything to a grinding halt. You’re having an awesome time being, say, Sonic the Hedgehog and flying through level after level, and then, suddenly, you’re flailing around in imprecise liquid. Nothing ever feels “right” in a water level. And in the case of games like Sonic, your lung capacity is woefully small, and your nerves are shot thanks to the panicking music and Sonic’s overdramatic death by drowning. It’s a wonder I don’t break out in hives when I see the ocean thanks to that formative experience.
It’s not just Sonic, either; I can’t think of a non-aquatic game I’ve played in which I actually enjoy the water level. Mario? Nope. My old favorite standby, Adventure Island II, in which I actually even like the ice world? Nope. I had a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for Nintendo that was never conquered. Even if you managed to defeat the water level, which seemed next to impossible, you were so fried no one wanted to play anymore.
Even in new games, water sections make me cringe. Kratos starts swimming and I’m already tapping my foot. Vashj’ir in World of Warcraft is probably the best one I’ve ever played – there’s fast movement even on foot, you’re given a cool mount, it’s interesting to look at and you don’t need to worry about breathing – but even then it only made it tolerable to play through once. It was one of two starting zones in that expansion; after giving it a shot once, most people I know chose to go with the other one for any alts.
I do wonder if the only reason I dislike water levels is due to my age. As is made clear here, most of the ones that really got under my skin were in games for old consoles. Am I just reacting to early trauma? If I were born ten years later, would I feel differently? Or is there just something inherently awful about water levels, just like there’s something inherently fun about flying in a video game?
What about you? What do you think of water levels? Am I just weird about it, or should they be banned unless there’s good reason? And are they better or worse than levels where you’re sliding around on ice? Share your thoughts below!