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A pirated World of Warcraft legacy server project takes a turn for the bizarre

by Joel Hruska

Over the last nine months, we’ve discussed the fate of the legacy server Nostalrius. The project was first created by a team of dedicated World of Warcraft players who wanted to experience the game as it existed prior to the launch of The Burning Crusade in 2007. It was then hit with a cease-and-desist order from Blizzard and forced to shutdown.

In most cases, that would’ve been the end of it. But the Nostalrius’ story was big enough that Blizzard agreed to meet the team in question, inviting them to company HQ and discussing the possibility of a legacy server project. When that meeting didn’t produce the results the Nostalrius team hoped for, the group announced it had given the Nostalrius code and character records to a different group, named Elysium. Elysium was expected to bring compatible servers online, merge the codebase, and handle character transfers.

On Saturday, Nostalrius author Viper posted to the Nostalrius message boards and, after some dithering, made the following request:

To recap: Nostalrius is requesting that Elysium, which already modified its code, basically change back. The request seems to cover both characters and server data, since Viper makes specific reference to both. While he attempts to argue that only about 10% of the 300,000 Nostalrius accounts had transferred a character to the new Elysium servers, dozens of forum posters immediately cast doubt on this, noting that the token system for transferring characters has been broken for weeks and that few people had ever had the opportunity to transfer in the first place. If nothing else, the thread seemed to make it clear plenty of people wanted to be playing their old characters but were unable to do so.

The argument Viper presents is giving Nostalrius’ source code to Elysium was a mistake, because it may have damaged the cause of getting official support for legacy servers. This isn’t exactly earth-shattering; I made a similar argument when Nostalrius announced it would give its code to Elysium. But if handing code over to Elysium and defiantly declaring that Nostalrius would do what Blizzard wouldn’t was a mistake, then politely asking a separate server to cease using said code after months of work is, at best, damned odd.

Elysium has announced that it will transition to a new core, codenamed “Anathema.” Nostalrius characters that had already transferred to the server are expected to remain, but the Nostalrius-donated core will be removed. The team claims the game will improve as a result of this transition, and writes: “Nostalrius handed us the torch, we have no intention of putting it out.”

The full Nostalrius thread is here, though it’s a veritable hotbed of conspiracy theorizing and insult-hurling. Explanations for this about-face are thin on the ground, but that hasn’t stopped people from arguing that Blizzard must have some dirt on the Nostalrius devs, as if Mike Morhaime was Jason Bourne.

The legacy server issue has faltered

Part of the reason why the legacy server movement isn’t sparking as much interest as it did is because Legion is generally considered to be a much better expansion than was. But part of it, I think, is because it’s genuinely difficult to imagine what a sustained legacy server initiative would look like. I won’t deny I’d enjoy running some old raids again, but would I really want to level up to 60 the “old” way, knowing that eventually, my guild is going to have Onyxia, Molten Core, AQ40, and even Naxxramas on farm status? What happens afterwards? True, it would take years for a server to get to this point, but Blizzard built Warcraft for the long haul and they’re still minting money, 12 years later.

Legion’s gorgeous environments have won the game praise, but the gameplay is solid as well.

One of the features Legion implemented is known as “Timewalking.” Every few weeks, a set of Timewalking dungeons from a specific expansion are available. Characters who play them are scaled downward to match level-equivalent abilities, and while the dungeons still tend to be easier than they were back in the day, it’s a useful way to showcase older content and give players the experience of running these instances. I don’t know that Blizzard added the feature to appease legacy server fans, but it does give players the option to revisit old dungeons in similar fashion.

The fundamental problem with legacy servers is that they attempt to freeze the game in time, when much of the appeal of an MMO is based on the idea that you pay a monthly fee in exchange for eventually accessing new content. Unless Blizzard wants to launch legacy servers for each of its previous expansions, its hard to see how the payment structure would function. The fact that Nostalrius and Elysium are still functional at all is evidence that Blizzard isn’t attacking this problem as heavily as it could, but these initiatives can only continue to exist until Blizzard says otherwise.



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