Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that Blizzard is finally releasing official servers for World of Warcraft classic. People have been running not-so-legal private servers for years, allowing them to play vanilla WoW, The Burning Crusade, or Wrath of the Lich King, and Blizzard has been hunting down such servers for just as long. After realizing it was a waste of time and bad PR, Blizzard finally announced that they were going to start running their own classic World of Warcraft servers. The official World of Warcraft Classic servers will become available to all in Summer 2019, but until then it’s available in a limited-time demo to players who purchase the BlizzCon virtual ticket.
Now that Blizzcon is over and the demo servers are live, I’ve had the chance to jump in and explore classic Azeroth—an Azeroth untouched by future expansions and almost cute in its simplicity. Back when the level cap was half of what it is now and finding a group to tackle a dungeon required you to be social (eww).
As someone who started playing WoW at the tail end of Wrath of the Lich King, with Cataclysm being my first real taste of the game, it’s been fascinating to explore what the game was like in 2004. Everything is so methodical and there’s a level of attention that’s no longer required at low-levels. Modern WoW is a much faster, snappier, and inpatient experience. For better or worse, the game has evolved and modernized over time, becoming a very different game.
I logged in, enjoyed the classic World of Warcraft login screen, and created a Dwarf Hunter. After being dumped in Westfall at level 15 surrounded by other fresh characters, I picked up some quests and began searching for the bandits I’d been tasked with slaying. My initial experience was a confusing one. The quest tracking is poor and essentially non-existent. Where I would typically just mindlessly follow the arrow telling me where to go and what to kill, here I actually had to read the quest text I would usually skip past. It’s a very different and oddly more engaging experience, at least for a little bit, making me want to pay attention to the narrative and the world, but it also slows the pace down to a crawl.
Perhaps it’s just the way I’ve become accustomed to leveling in WoW being a laborious chore that you want to get through as fast as possible, but it was an experience that quickly grew tedious. My first 20 minutes with the game were consumed by a single quest. I picked up a quest to slay 20 harvesters in a field and quickly teamed up the nearest four people to kill 20 mobs with an incredibly slow respawn rate. The quest only gave me a small amount of XP, a pittance of silver, and no follow-up quest. I was left in a field, unsure of where to go and what to do next.
Perhaps this was just a particularly bad quest, but it feels like Classic will be loaded with those kinds of experience. Confusing, poorly-designed quests that take 20 minutes to complete and provide no follow-up. Playing WoW Classic is interesting, for sure, but it’s also a little frustrating and boring. Getting back into the mindset of an MMO from 2004 is harder than you might think, especially considering how much the genre has changed in 14 years.
There are so many aspects that are almost unrecognizable to modern WoW. Hunters have limited ammo (although they give you plenty in the demo) and resource management is something you actually need to consider. It feels like a survival game in a weird way. Regularly topping off your health and mana means carrying food and drink everywhere you go. Questing became a real chore when I rolled a Tauren Druid and had to stop after every two kills to restore my mana. Although they’ve made a couple of concessions to modernize the experience, like adding auto loot, there are some parts of the Vanilla experience that just seem irreparably outdated.
For people who played WoW back in the day, this is sure to be a nice nostalgia trip. For me, however, someone who didn’t play World of Warcraft until about 2008-9, it just feels like a relic of a game. Something that should be playable at a museum, or shown at some kind of exhibition, not something I’d really want to play for fun. Maybe when it launches for real I’ll grab some friends and we’ll slowly make our way through classic WoW, but I can’t imagine it’ll hold my attention. But, hey, they’re including it as part of the regular subscription, so that’s pretty neat.
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