Back in 2005 I was just getting ready to graduate high school. I always look back on those days with rose-colored glasses, remembering them as the good ol’ days. I have since grown out of my awkward nerd shell, and part of that growth came with playing World of Warcraft for 11 years. I put down the magical staffs and swords back in 2014 and have rarely thought about it since, aside from occasional dips into lore through books or comics. So when Blizzard announced that they would be revisiting the original incarnation of WoW with World of Warcraft Classic, I was cautiously optimistic.
One of my favorite aspects of gaming is figuring out systems. This can be as simple as learning a quick rotation of optimal abilities in combat (something high level WoW play absolutely requires) or trying to rework muscle memory over and over again to land a perfect jump in a platformer. After all, games follow an established rule set and one way to approach that as a player is to figure out the best path forward. This is what initially sucked me into WoW. There was crafting, gear optimization, stat crunching, mount collecting and more. At my peak, I was putting in a minimum of 65 hours a week as a guild officer. It was magic. With a playable demo of World of Warcraft Classic loaded on my computer, I was eager to recapture the excitement and fun of my youth. Would this old experience ring true to my memory?
Not exactly. This past weekend at BlizzCon 2018, Blizzard Entertainment showed off a tiny playable slice of Classic, and it tasted quite fowl. Sure, the Horde is absent of the Fabio inspired Blood Elves, and space goats are nowhere to be found, but in rolling back the clock to the dawn of Warcraft as an MMO, there were a ton of things removed or brought back into play that don’t make sense over 10 years later. The demo allowed you to create a character from the original eight races, and then you were dropped into that factions second progression zone–the harsh desert of the Barrens for the Horde, or the always-in-season farmland of Westfall for Alliance characters. Everything was as it was in 2005, which is exactly what Blizzard wanted to deliver, but I’m not sure it is what most players wanted.
There have been hundreds of changes to WoW since 2005, from class abilities to entire system overhauls to the destroying and rebuilding of the world. A lot of these changes were done to make the game better, and yet there was always a fraction of players who longed for the glory days of the original World of Warcraft, where raids were done with 40 people instead of a paltry squad of 10, and Fire Elementals were immune to fire attacks so certain classes were completely obsolete. The entire tone of World of Warcraft Classic reeks of “Sure you are a great player now, but back in my day we had to gear for fire resistance and coordinate with basic chat functions!”.
The biggest example of this can be found in the first half hour I spent in the demo. For a time limited demo of only 1 hour, I spent the first half of it just setting up my character’s action bars and re-configuring how the game behaved. Quest text, a major part of the game that most players take for granted, used to render on screen a few characters at a time, leading to painful sighs of sadness as picking up another quest became a chore of patience. It took me five minutes to find the option to turn on ‘Instant Quest Text’. I am not sure how this is handled in new accounts for WoW, but the user friendliness of this trip down memory lane was incredibly bumpy.
A huge combat frustration showed up again with tagging. In modern WoW, any player can participate in any combat by attacking any enemy. Seems pretty straight forward. In WoW Classic though, enemies become tagged to whoever attacks them first. So trying to complete quests becomes a direct competition with others around you, waiting for the same boss to appear only to have to wait three more times because someone else got the first hit. It is frustrating and quite frankly made me feel a bit of stupid gamer rage. The dedication it is going to take to get a character to max level is definitely something I remember envying and should be an accomplishment that is celebrated, but I will be damned if it takes a special kind of sadist to like it.
It seems like some of the systems in place in 2005 were great stepping stones, but so much refinement and shaping has been done since then that World of Warcraft Classic will be played on occasion by most, and with a burning passion by a select few. The one thing to be said about WoW Classic is that Blizzard delivered exactly what it promised, even if that reality doesn’t match up to the expectation warped by hindsight.