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What we leave behind

Anne Stickney

I'm really concerned about Dog. Dog is the dog that I rescued from near starvation in the Heartland over in the Valley of the Four Winds. I was so excited to find and rescue this poor little guy that I even wrote a brief article about him at the time. Since then, Dog has been happily living the life of a king on my farm, and despite the fact that I was never able to name him, he seems to be happy enough to just respond to the name Dog, not to mention a few choice emotes. If you haven't already done so, try using /love, /pet, /bark, or /kiss on your puppy, because the result is adorable.

Actually, I kind of love everything on my farm. Shaggy the yak from Farmer Fung, the sheep from Chee Chee, the piggies sent courtesy of Fish Fellreed (who is still my favorite), and of course Luna the cat from Ella. Even the chickens, although they have a disturbing tendency to flop over dead due to phasing. I spent a lot of time building up the farm and making it the nicest little place to hang out, even when I'm not currently farming crops. It's a good farm. I had fun building it.

But I'm super concerned about Dog, because I know I'll be leaving soon.

I remember when The Burning Crusade came to a close. The story ended on a high note, with the Sunwell being restored, Illidan, Vashj and Kael taken care of, and an almost overwhelming sense of satisfaction about the whole thing. I think part of it had to do with being so far away from the rest of Azeroth for so long. I didn't spend a lot of time on Azeroth in Burning Crusade -- why would I, when Shattrath had just about everything anyone could ever need in one place? So when the expansion came to its satisfactory conclusion, it was like an admission that yes, our characters had done a very good job saving this far-flung bit of the universe from peril, and now it was time to go home, and possibly take a long nap.

Of course, the explosive start to Wrath sort of threw it all into disarray, and once again we were off to save the world. Wrath was one of my favorite expansions from a story standpoint, but the feeling of actually being in Northrend didn't appeal to me at all. I simultaneously loved the history of the places we were being shown and the stories we were being told, and loathed the fact that we were entrenched in what was mostly a frozen wasteland. It felt very grim, very dark, and the only time I felt sort of light-hearted at all was when I was sitting in the Dalaran inn and keeping Jones the cat company.

When we left Wrath for Cataclysm, it was a different kind of return home. We were the triumphant heroes, and let's face it -- killing the Lich King seemed like far more of a triumph than anything we'd done in Burning Crusade. But there was a dissonant note that clouded all of the triumph, and it lay at the feet of Garrosh Hellscream. As a Horde player, the Garrosh we saw in Wrath was increasingly volatile, and not really someone I was keen to get behind at all. It didn't help that the Azeroth I'd known and loved for years was suddenly wrecked beyond recognition, and old beloved quests and hangouts were abruptly erased from existence.

Cataclysm came and went. I think it was my least favorite expansion, because it never really felt like we went anywhere. The new zones were interesting enough, but with the exception of Vashj'ir, they weren't alien enough to really satisfy -- and with the addition of the group finder, Have Group Will Travel, and other conveniences, it seemed like most of the time there really wasn't a reason to leave Orgrimmar at all. When Cataclysm ended, it didn't feel like a triumph, or a return home. It was just more of the same.

And then we have Pandaria. Mists managed to tick off all the right buttons when it came to traveling somewhere that felt new, unexplored, foreign. It introduced an entirely new cast of characters who were so entertaining, so vividly written, so engaging that I almost hate to leave. I know we're going to have to. I know we'll probably have a whole slew of new characters and interesting things to explore on Draenor. That's not what's bothering me -- it's what we're leaving behind.

Over the course of Mists, we simultaneously discovered this gorgeous new continent and wrecked it with our actions. The orange groves in the Jade Forest aren't there anymore. The Temple of the Red Crane is still a ruined mess. And the Vale of Eternal Blossoms serves as stark evidence of what our presence accomplished. But when Mists is over, we're just going to dust our hands off and walk away from it all, assuming by the miraculous growth of one lone tree that everything will be fixed again eventually. That leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

And in all of this pondering is where I go back to Dog, who hasn't harmed a soul on the farm -- doesn't chase the chickens, doesn't dig up holes, just happily romps around doing his doggy thing on the little patch of land that my character has inexplicably managed to cultivate as her own piece of Pandaria. What happens to Dog, when we leave? When I found him, he was huddled, starving and alone under a bit of brush in the middle of a verdant, beautiful piece of farmland. I rescued Dog. He's my dog. Yet when the expansion is over, I won't be going back to Pandaria. There won't be any reason to do so. What happens to Dog then? Does he wander off and slowly starve again?

It might be weird that I'm hung up on this collection of dog-shaped pixels to some people. But it's the best evidence that I have of Mists of Pandaria's success. This is the first expansion in which I have become so wrapped up in the story, so involved with it, so invested in it, that leaving it doesn't feel like a triumph. It feels like I've come into a dear friend's home and left the door open, letting in the rain and snow. It soaked into the carpet, and it's going to cost a fortune to have it repaired or replaced. It ruined precious antiques. Yet my response to this is to just ... close that door, pat myself on the back and go home.

The difference, I think -- and where the success of the story lies -- is that unlike Burning Crusade, Wrath, or Cataclysm, I'm going to be thinking about this long after we've left Pandaria's shores. This weird, wild, magical story is going to stick in my head for years to come, even if we never go back to Pandaria again. And that's the mark of a good story -- much like a good song, you just can't get it out of your head, no matter how hard you try. The characters you've gotten to know are so deftly written that you'll remember them fondly long after you've left them behind.

I can't stay in Pandaria forever, much as I'd like to remain on the continent with the beautiful fields and people that are happy to see me no matter where I've been or what I've done. Warlords is going to be a gritty ride through a planet that was never supposed to be. It's going to be grim, it's going to be dark, it's going to be brutal. But I'd feel a little better about facing a savage world of untold danger if I had Dog at my side. He doesn't deserve to be left behind again.

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