The Spiral Notebook
Chapter Four: Azteca
“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” – R.E.M.
…Yep. I’m really doing this. Hey everybody, and welcome back to the fourth installment of the Spiral Notebook! Today we’re going to be discussing arguably a very… veryÂ touchy subject for many a Wizard. The subject at hand (and it’s a big subject, believe me)… Azteca.
The fourth world of the 2nd Arc, Azteca is still a roadblock in many Wizards’ adventures. It is often sorely remembered due to its brutal difficulty, as well as its… let’s just say, dishearteningÂ narrative. While a lot of players get put off by these adversities, I’d argue that they are what make Azteca so special. In this editorial, I hope to prove to you why I look back on Azteca with fondness, even though it crushed my soul in more ways than one. (Did I mention this place is brutal?)
Article #1: The Story
Before we talk about the storyline of Azteca as of when we play through it, I think it’s important – scratch that, crucial – that we understand some important in-game context regarding Azteca. Good? Good. I promise this won’t take long.
Azteca is one of the most ancient worlds in the entire Spiral. The ancestors of its current inhabitants, the Aztecosaurs, were there when the First World shattered. For generations, a select group of Aztecans, the Lords of Night, kept guard over the verses of the Song of Creation, the very song Bartleby used to weave the Spiral itself together. Fearing the Song’s reality-rewriting capabilities, the Lords of Night faked Azteca’s destruction, effectively hiding Aztecan civilization from the rest of the Spiral.
At least, it was hidden… until now, when it was suddenly beset upon by the Shadow Web, a militarized cult headed by none other than the Shadow Queen Morganthe. Their cover blown and doom surrounding them from all sides, the Aztecans attach a cry for help, along with a Spiral Key to the ancient world to a messenger Quetzal. Eventually, the Quetzal (as well as some Shadow Web goons that were tailing it) arrives at the doorstep of one Edward Halley, who in turn sends out a distress signal to his old colleague Cyrus Drake… and so our story begins.
(Okay, so the world’s been out for nearly 9 years now, but even still… spoiler warning.)
Cyrus sends us to the Aztecosaurologist Edward Halley shortly after receiving Halley’s distress signal. Upon arriving at Halley’s observatory, we find Halley and the Quetzal. We then dispatch of their Shadow Web entourage, and find the message the Quetzal was carrying:
We rush to the observatory’s telescope and discover Azteca, very much intact… with a large blue comet looming over it. After providing the news to Cyrus Drake and subsequently Headmaster Ambrose, we use the Spiral Key enclosed within the Quetzal’s message to travel to Azteca. With Hungry Dead to quash, Aztecan leaders to save, ancient magic to rekindle, and a cataclysmic comet to conquer, we get to work.
As we drive back the Hungry Dead and restore the land little by little (and I do mean little by little; this one paragraph doesn’t do justice to how long Azteca is), we eventually discover Morganthe’s plan: Learn the Song of Creation from the Lords of Night so she can rebuild the Spiral from scratch. We plow through hordes of Undead, Shadow Web goons, and rogue Aztecans, but by the time we’ve caught up to her, we’re too late. Morganthe calls up to Xibalba via the Thunderhorn Huracan Vicious Sky, transporting herself and her mysterious Dark Servant to the comet. She plans to send it crashing down on all of Azteca. But, you know, for real this time.
And here’s where it gets depressing. In the climactic moment of Azteca, we give chase to Morganthe by traveling to Xibalba ourselves. We attempt to pry the spirits of the original Lords of Night from Morganthe’s grasp. But when we arrive to confront her for what we assume is the last time… this happens.
Yeah. This is real. For the first time in our wizarding career… we failed. Azteca is going to die.
After driving back an old specter from our past (temporarily… *cough* Darkmoor *cough*), we return to the surface of Azteca to see its citizens terrified, gazing helplessly skyward as shards of Xibalba rain down like eldritch hail. Pacal Redmask offers us some brief and somber parting words, and we escape through the Spiral Door with heavy heads and hearts. We’ve left the world, its people, its culture… all of it, to perish.
Article #2: Why Azteca is Hated
The near-universal dislike of Azteca within the Wizard101 community comes from three main issues: its length, its difficulty, and its inevitable demise. For players who already know Azteca’s fate prior to playing it, having to slog through this massive, ancient world feels less like a crusade against the Shadow and more like a pointless chore.
And… I get that. I really do. But here, I hope I can help assuage some of your gripes with Azteca and hopefully justify them. Hopefully.
Article #3: Acknowledging the Difficulty Spike, and Loss, of Azteca
Let’s start with Azteca’s brutal difficulty. Ever since the Polaris update redesigned Critical Block, PvE enemies with higher Critical hit rates were inadvertently given massive buffs. It’s much, much harder to consistently land Critical Blocks without forsaking important offensive stats like Damage and Critical. Add on top of that the fact that A) PvE Critical was still a x2 multiplier, and B) enemies still retain their high Critical Block ratios, and all of a sudden Aztecan enemies (a lot of whom, by the way, have absolutely bloatedÂ HP) become nothing short of total juggernauts. Even after Kingsisle nerfed many Aztecan enemies’ HP in a later update,Â fights in Azteca take longer on average than in any other world.
This factor alone stretches out Azteca’s already sizable campaign to ludicrous levels. It definitely needs to be revisited by Kingsisle if the world wants to feel like less of a massive uphill climb. (And this doesn’t even account for all the Critical/Critical Block reworks that have been happening more recently, because HOO BOY that’s a beast unto itself…)
Being the storyteller I am, though, I would like to (somewhat) defend Azteca’s challenge level by tying it back to the lore of the world itself. As I mentioned when explaining context, Azteca is old – really, REALLY old. Its inhabitants have access to some of the most primal, archaic forms of magic in the entire Spiral. Consequently, said denizens know how to sling spells exceptionally well. Azteca is so rooted in ancient magic and power, it could be argued, not having its enemies be as powerful as they are would be unfaithful to the world itself. Does that justify some regular enemies having 5.4K Health? Kind of, if you think about it. The Spiral isn’t your world, it’s theirs; you’re just living in it.
But now I have to address the Belloq in the room: The ending. Truthfully, I still find the end of Azteca as gut-wrenching as I did when I first played through the world. Heck, I completed every single side quest in Azteca so I would never have a reason to go back. Any time I did for whatever reason, my stomach knotted itself into shambles as I was painfully reminded of my failure to save it. It’s a feeling of guilt I can sense in the pit of my stomach even as I wrote this article… and you know what? That’s how I knew it was a great world.
Article #4: Azteca’s Real-World Context
Think back to when Azteca first hit Live Realm: November 2012. This was a little over a month before the world would supposedly end on December 21. (at least, according to the Mayan calendar) Those of us who regularly surfed the Internet back then remember this time well. As conspiracy theories flew left and right, post-apocalyptic dystopia stories like The Hunger Games and Divergent gained massive traction with younger readers, and Hollywood churned out a ton of campy disaster movies and horror flicks. Needless to say, the idea of a looming apocalypse was on pretty much everyone’s mind at that point. And Azteca shows it, in more ways than one.
Even though the people of Azteca might seem ancient due to both their in-game ties to the First World and their real-life blend of Aztecan and Mayan mythos, the concerns and fear they have are very, very real. Aztecosaurs in the Zocalo cradle their young as they look up to Xibalba with dread. A town crier, decked out with a sign reading “The End is Near,” rings its bells frantically in Three Points. Public officials such as Pacal Redmask are deadlocked in simultaneous attempts to both calm the masses, ward off the Hungry Dead, and rally against the Shadow Web’s forces.
Sure, at the end of the day these Aztecans aren’t much more than bits of code in a decade-old video game. However, symbolically, they stand for much more. Because like it or not, the Aztecans are the direct byproduct of a year – no, an age – where feelings of fear, anger, paranoia, and helplessness reign supreme. Those feelings paralyzed and distracted the Aztecan people enough for a malevolent force to swoop in and wipe them out. And by the time the Aztecans pulled themselves together and fought back, it was already too late.
Article #5: The Grand Prophecy
The mirror will break. The horn will call.
From the Shadows I strike, and the skies will fall.
I want to draw attention to the Grand Prophecy echoed countless times throughout the 2nd Arc. If you’re unfamiliar with the prophecy, let me break it down for you. The mirror will breakÂ refers to Mirror Lake in Zafaria “breaking” when Morganthe reclaimed her Deck of Shadows. The horn will callÂ refers to Huracan Vicious Sky, known as the “Horn of Huracan,”Â calling up to Xibalba. From the Shadows I strikeÂ refers to Morganthe’s dabbling in Shadow Magic and her title of “Shadow Queen”. Lastly, and the skies will fall refers to Xibalba… well… fallingÂ on Azteca.
Now, with all that context out of the way, let me point out that out of the four references to the 2nd Arc within the Grand Prophecy, half of them regard events that transpire in Azteca. What that says is that the writers over at Kingsisle knewÂ just how important Azteca was to the game overall. Not just in the context of late 2012, but to the hundreds of thousands of players going forward, players who would inevitably suffer the same heart-crushing loss upon finishing Xibalba.
Article #6: Azteca’s Legacy (Conclusion)
Even 9 years after the world’s initial release, the Spiral still remembers Azteca. In spite of its destruction, the world of the Aztecosaurs left a massive legacy behind.
For starters, let’s talk about something I haven’t addressed yet: the spellsÂ andÂ pets. On top of giving us quintessential Astral School Spells like Sharpened Blade, Potent Trap, and the various School-specific Auras like Furnace and Galvanic Field, Azteca also brought with itÂ Rank 10 Spells,Â larger-than-life feats of magic that still see use to this day. These spells were the highest-ranking spells in the entire game for ages, only surpassed by the 11-Pip Scion spells nearly 6 years after their initial debut. Just… wow. Talk about a legacy.
In the Pets department, some schools of magic received pets at level 98 that continue Azteca’s legacy. Fire received a Sun Serpent, Ice earned a Lord of Winter, and Death got an Avenging Fossil. All three pets are incredibly powerful, and some of their hybrids are utterly fantastic-looking!
Next, let’s talk about Azteca’s importance from a narrative standpoint. As the heroes of Wizard101’s story, I would argue that it’s important to our overall narrative that we suffer some kind of significant setback. Sure, we might “lose” in combat dozens of times, but in terms of the story we always come out on top. In the 1st Arc, we heal the Emperor of Mooshu and stop Malistaire from resurrecting the Dragon Titan. In the 2nd, we save King Artorius from the magic of the Horned Crown… you get the gist. Azteca is our first major loss as Wizards. That loss is what spurs us to end Morganthe once and for all in Khrysalis: the culmination and end of the 2nd Arc.
Finally, let’s talk about Azteca in terms of… well, Azteca. It’s a sprawling, almost alien world, thick with zombified dinosaurs, lush rainforests, and distinct architecture that makes it stand apart from anything we as Wizards have seen up to this point. When you’re not grinding for every last Agave Leaf in Mangrove Marsh or spending 10 minutes on a single mob fight, Azteca really does have a lot to see and offer. It’s an exotic, wonderful world that I truly appreciate. An appreciation which, as I’ve mentioned before, only makes its loss hit me all the harder.
In conclusion: Azteca is a world that really means a lot to me. It’s a piece of history lost to the Spiral. A shard of primordial wonder from the universe’s very creation. Sure, I may pull my hair out over fights and/or crafting quests. However, a lot of what made it challenging made its loss all the more potent. The world may be gone, but its legacy of challenging battles, powerful new tools, and a heartbreaking story of loss in the face of insurmountable odds will live on forever in my heart. Rest in peace, Azteca… you were gone far too soon.
What did you think of Azteca? Do you think it deserves the criticism it gets? What would you do to improve it, if anything? Let us know in the comments below!