WoW Classic: A Retro-Retrospective
It’s not often that I change my mind about a game. It’s even less often that I change my mind and completely fall in love with it. World of Warcraft had always seemed like a game that was all flash and no substance. I first played The Burning Crusade expansion when I was 8 years old, and honestly had no idea what was going on, although I had fun for the two weeks or so I did play. As I grew older, my tastes naturally changed. I no longer saw the charm in a game that primarily had a gameplay loop of kill quests, fetch quests, and dealing with other players of questionable sanity in dungeons. The addition of endless daily chores to later expansions killed my interest completely. When I heard about the release of Classic World of Warcraft back in August 2019, I was cynical to say the least, but was curious to see what all of the buzz was about. This piece is not intended to be a review, but more of a list of pros and cons that I thought were boons or detriments to my enjoyment of the game.
It was known to me that the WoW community had many issues with the modern version of the game, and those who played on private servers called for Blizzard to release their own version of vanilla World of Warcraft. This reminded me of my previous decade of experience playing Runescape, a similarly legendary game that had a virtually identical problem in 2013. Both Jagex and Blizzard had come up with the same solution to please their communities: re-release an older version of their most famous work to players who wanted a return to the romantic period when their minds were young and they had just started experiencing the game for the first time. This solution turned out to be the right move, as it has brought many players back to both games in droves. Beyond this simple choice, however, the two companies had very different intentions.
From what I’ve seen, there are two main groups of players in these re-releases: a returning demographic of experienced players from the original version of the game and new players who saw the opportunity to get in on the action when everyone is on square one. I was in the second group, but luckily I wasn’t alone.
I chose Faerlina (A North American Player vs. Player server) as my home for the opportunity to play in the guild of the prolific god-gamer Twitch personality, Moonmoon. Guano Gang (now officially known as <Redacted> thanks to friendly mass reporters) was and still is my guild of choice for progressing through my Classic journey. I knew that Classic’s emphasis on social dependence would mean that attaching yourself to a guild early on would provide significant advantages, and that ended up being a wise decision. Even after our guild leader’s departure from the game, we stuck together and continued playing regularly.
Your experience of this game is highly dependent on the people you meet and play with. Much of the important content is impossible to do solo unless you are very over-leveled and over-equipped to do so. You are only able to choose two main professions to train out of the ten available, meaning obtaining certain gear, upgrades, materials, or utility items requires a lot of friends to make/gather them for you or a lot of gold to buy them off of others. Honestly, if I had to play Classic WoW by myself, I probably would have quit after a couple of weeks like I did back then. Being in constant contact with your guildmates in real time keeps you sane through many of the repetitive, grindy sections of the leveling experience. This doesn’t even include the easy access to dungeon groups, the camaraderie that comes with being a part of a guild structure, and participating in the larger guild scene in your server. Runescape, by contrast, is a very self-motivated experience. Especially in my preferred Ironman mode (an account status that prevents you from trading with players and using the public auction house), you are very much your own adventurer in your own story, with few exceptions. My younger self didn’t appreciate the value that came with having a group of like-minded people to share your experiences with, but I had the opportunity to change that on this new journey.
The original world of Azeroth can feel lifeless and dull at times, but for every uninspired leveling zone there is one that is equally as breathtaking and beautiful. I distinctly remember the stark contrast between The Barrens, an aptly named savanna that takes up a large portion of your early leveling experience as a Horde player, and the untouched, colorful wilderness of Ashenvale. The ambient elven-themed soundtrack in the background is a nice touch to your first time visiting the zone. The Horde cities are not incredibly detailed but make up for it with strong aesthetics and powerful framing. I will never forget my first time walking up to the gates of the capital city of Orgrimmar, and feeling what it meant to be a member of the Horde (I’m sure Alliance players felt the same way entering Stormwind or Ironforge). Thunder Bluff is a scenic and calming bastion, and the Undercity is a strong symbol of perseverance in what would otherwise be a dark and twisted part of the game world.
In the early phase of Classic’s release, being on a PvP server meant that players of opposite factions were allowed to indiscriminately attack each other whenever they pleased. This may seem like a bad idea (and to some extent, it is), but most players were content with leaving each other alone during leveling. There was no incentive to killing other players other than the thrill of doing it, which kept unwanted PvP to a minimum. I took it upon myself as a rogue to ensure my fellow Horde players could level in peace by removing…troublesome Alliance players from important quest areas. This led to a few inevitable skirmishes and kill exchanges. For example, I played a game of cat and mouse for about an hour with an elven Hunter at Stonetalon Peak who was attacking another player in the area. I killed him and he killed me. I’m sure both of us learned valuable lessons in reciprocation and the Golden Rule from that experience. For group PvP, there were a few fun skirmishes in major cities and zones where both factions were in close proximity, like in Hillsbrad Foothills.
My biggest problem with PvP came in the game’s rollout of Phase 2 content. This is when it became possible to earn honor by killing players of the opposite faction. Honor is essentially a points system that converts on a relative scale to a rating score every week, and this score contributes to your PvP rank in your respective faction. I had taken a break from WoW after the first month, and when I had come back the open world became a near unbearable war zone. Many max-level players wanted to grind Honor for the rewards, and it was very common to be completely unable to quest in a zone due to group kill squads roaming around and camping all exits. As I was far from the max level at the time, you can see how this could be a problem.
I won’t comment much more on PvP other than the release of instanced PvP battlegrounds essentially ended the kill squad meta of the previous patch, and forced many grinders to play in those instead of the open world. Battlegrounds are a fun distraction, but in the form they are (or were?) in is not refined and represents one of Blizzard’s biggest oversights with Vanilla and Classic.
Luckily, with a couple of breaks here and there, I eventually reached the max level. The part of Classic WoW that most interested me was the raiding and guild scene in the endgame, and that content delivered in strides. The raids themselves are epic and masterfully designed dungeons that have certainly stood the test of time. Again, Blizzard’s framing techniques make walking into Molten Core or Onyxia feel like a big deal. The opportunity to bond with your guild (and get some sweet loot in the process), while frustrating at times, is one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had in gaming. As I’ve stated earlier, this depends on who you play with, but it is very likely that anyone who plays Classic will eventually find a guild that fits with their playstyle and schedule. Not everyone has the energy to prepare for 30 minute speedruns of Molten Core, but there is nothing wrong with going through content at your own pace. At the time I’m writing this, our guild will be nearly done with Blackwing Lair, and although progression has been rough, I’m grateful that my guildmates were willing to chug through long sessions to accomplish a common goal, as this was the way Classic is meant to be experienced. For all my problems with Blizzard and their design philosophy, I am glad that I decided to stick with this community for as long as I have.
Special thanks to Moonmoon, Teayo (Redacted’s organizer and unofficial guild leader), and all my guildmates for making my first time in WoW Classic unforgettable (in a good way). Hopefully we can have many more good memories as Classic content continues to be released.
More thanks to Mikě (a warrior tank who helped me drudge though level 40-50 content), Spacestation (a guildmate and fellow orc rogue who made gold farming in Blackrock Depths bearable.), and to RNGesus for giving me insane luck in loot drops and rolls.