Kiska's fallen, and can't get up. The strain of trying to be pure and holy for fifty-eight levels has taken its toll. The final straw is being trained at 58th level with a single upgrade to a healing spell, which is next-to-useless for a front-line tank who is followed everywhere by an angry-looking tree. There have always been assurances that the paladin's lot improves at the next milestone, and although a nifty new ability is granted occasionally the interactivity remains sparse. The main attack has a ten second cool-down, making a miss sting much more than it should, and multiple targets cannot be effectively controlled without abusing AoE spells. There is no denying a paladin's effectiveness and utility, but its passivity is not for me. I want to feel actively strong, which is why I turn to Arthas, the Lich King.
The World of Warcraft weekly static group that is the Filesystem Checkwits has reached 58th level, which is where death knights are spat out from the Lich King's command in to Stormwind. It's the perfect time to make the change, a seamless transition from paladin to death knight being too delectable to pass by. I have experience with the death knight, both in dealing damage and tanking it, and greatly enjoy the class. It shouldn't be a hindrance to the static group if I change. And although the death knight uses AoE attacks to tank, unlike the paladin that relies on AoE to tank a death knight's tanking is only based on AoE attacks. As long as I have a rune or some runic power, I am free to switch targets and instantly apply a high-threat attack as a death knight, a function I feel is lacking in the paladin.
I originally create my death knight when Wrath of the Lich King is released, nominally to reserve the name. I then create effectively the same death knight on a US server and advance her to 80th level, becoming a veteran of Wintergrasp and Northrend dungeonmaster. Although maintaining continuity in the static group is hardly a concern, I don't want the confusion of playing two identical characters. I am not keen on paying for a simple name change, so I instead need to create a new character. And if I do that I may as well also change her to be draenei, offering some opportunisitc continuity and keeping Livya as our resident midget. Being unsure how long it will take to run through the death knight starting zone and deciding on the switch rather late means I need to get a move on, although having done it twice before will help speed up the process. Deleting my current death knight, as each player is only allowed one death knight per server, Kiska is reborn as Mla'an, the cursed one.
Renouncing the Light and embracing the Dark, I am soon introduced to Arthas himself, who sees my potential. Go out and wreak havoc, he tells me, apparently a subscriber to my journal. There is a little bit of orientation to deal with first—being introduced to various undead bosses, finding my way around the necropolis of Acherus, locating the coffee machine—and then I am whisked down to Death's Breach to start slaughtering my old allies. A bit of civilian killing gets me warmed up, and I particularly relish wrenching saronite arrows from the backs of fallen townsfolk only to cut them down when they get up to thank me. As Arthas's voice reaches out to tell me, mercy is for the weak. Thanks, papa, I'll make you proud.
Running around is not the best way to appear intimidating, so I am given the task of stealing a horse to become my fearful steed. I fight my way to the stables and find a suitable beast of remarkable prowess. Fighting through the guards gets me close enough to jump astride my new mount and I ride my pony of doom back to my new masters. It's not quite fearful yet, being only four hands tall, but it can certainly gallop when pressed. A bit of necrotic magic helps the pony reach its full potential and I am feeling more of a death knight than ever. More quests from my dark masters push the pathetic humans further back, and some insiduous skullduggery disrupts their planned beach invasion, until eventually I find myself riding an undead dragon above the almost-defeated town, firing frozen bolts of destruction down on the hapless fools. It's good to be on the winning side.
Papa Lich King tells me to meet with his forces at Light's Hope Chapel to strike the defining blow. I am not one to refuse. It turns out to be a betrayal, or something like that, I'm not paying much attention, and the undead forces are defeated, the Lich King routed. Before I know it, Darion Mograine, Highlord of the Ebon Blade, has decided that I am to be redeemed and gives me a letter of introduction to King Varian Wrynn of Stormwind. I didn't sign up for this. But it looks like I have no choice. Arthas has abandoned us to the Alliance, Mograine has had a change of heart (the fool), and I can't fight the whole of Azeroth by myself. At least, not without a few more levels under my belt. I introduce myself to the king in Stormwind, and try to settle down. The Love is in the Air festival lets me spray random idiots in the eyes with stinky perfume and the Lunar Festival indulges me with random explosions and an easy route to Moonglade, where I can buy a pretty dress. I'll bide my time.
I speed through the death knight quests in a single session easily, experience certainly helping. There is the usual knowledge of what each quest entails and where I need to head to complete it, now aided by the improved quest tracker, but it is having experience of building a death knight's talents that really makes a difference. There is a swift rate of progression in creating a death knight. Because the class enters the world at 55th level there is a lot of catching up needed to be done. There are more initial abilities than 1st level characters and the rune system is novel amongst the classes, but rather than starting with the equivalent talent points of a 55th level character they are instead meted out as quest rewards. This prevents the player feeling completely overwhelmed right at the start. The steady flow of talent points also makes it seem like they are not being unduly withheld, additionally offering occasional pauses between the rapid completion of quests. Instead of having to analyse each choice, knowing in advance what talent tree to focus on and which talents to throw points at significantly speeds up the death knight creation process.
The death knight starting zone is wonderfully designed. There is the great use of phasing that helps to tell a story much more effectively than any other class does in World of Warcraft, and even though most of the mobs are equivalent level to the death knight they are suitably weakened than normal mobs of that level to create a similar difficulty curve to a 1st level character's starting zone. But where the death knight fails is in showing what could have been. There is an aspect of running around with abominations, shades, and hellhounds that is distinctly appealing after having played characters who are constantly battling them. Being shown the other side gives an amazing sense of differing moralities. Even the differences between Horde and Alliance pale in comparison. The two player factions are not separated by any distinct sense of good and evil to start with, a greyer shade of morality instead instilled on both sides that is further weakened with Shattrath, Dalaran and the Argent Tournament allowing casual mingling of the normally opposed characters. Being decidedly against everyone but your own faction brings with it a proper sense of identity.
It's disappointing that being a member of an unabashedly evil force is limited only to this brief glimpse as part of death knight creation. I am Mla'an the cursed one not just because of my fall from the Light, but because I have been rejected by Lich King. Now I am ready to unleash my power against the Azeroth and Outlands, hoping that a certain someone is watching.