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WoW Wednesday: A Classic Take

I am not interested in World of Warcraft Classic. Despite being the most attractive part of the current World of Warcraft development cycle, Classic simply does not remotely interest me. It is not because Rise of Azshara and the wider content of the upcoming Patch 8.2 intrigues, nor am I against the idea of legacy servers. I don’t personally believe that the current live game is inherently superior to the old, but there are aspects of Classic that simply turn me right away from it.

I was lucky enough to share a small portion of my formative years with others playing what we used to call Vanilla World of Warcraft. While I originally tried a Warlock and later a Warrior, I eventually settled on a Shaman and became my guild’s class officer. Vanilla was a relic of its era, best wholly encapsulated in historical pieces such as YouTuber Preach’s, “Legacy of Vanilla,” series of videos. The systems now, as we understand them are very archaic and were designed for such a reason.
WoW Wednesday: A World of Warcraft Classic Take
Leveling in Vanilla is perhaps the most arduous it has ever been in Warcraft’s storied history, even more-so with mass server failures that were brought about during the launch of The Burning Crusade. Combat itself was intrinsically slow throughout the game’s progression due to highly tuned enemies. If you were overzealous, or went into even the most basic situation under-prepared, you could quickly find yourself on a VERY length corpse run back to your body with significant repercussions to your equipment.

This was compounded by a rather frustrating quest system. Aside from questing being an often confusing and directionless without a physical map before you, there were simply not enough quests per zone to get your character into the next required level bracket. Taking, for example, the Arathi Highlands, there were quests in that area intended to take you from your late level 20s up until nearly level 40. However, there were only a handful of quests spread around the zone taking you to your early 30s. This means that unless you followed a breadcrumb quest designed to take you to Stranglethorn Vale (which was a completely different bracket) and even then, there were simply not enough quests to allow you to level. This meant you’d often find yourself killing hordes of creatures and enemies to grind out levels.

The reason for this is quite simple and obvious; World of Warcraft at the time was one of the largest and most populated environments of its time. In comparison to other MMOs of the time it was the most forgiving and detailed in its systems and world, despite its slogging leveling pace and issues. Even with portions of its continents such as Silithus left unfinished, Blizzard wanted players to explore. As such Questing became the method of conveyance for this; go explore where we send you and come back when its time. Even considering that there were simply not enough quests in the world to level to maximum level, meaning that eventually you would have to resort to grinding.

WoW Wednesday: A World of Warcraft Classic Take
Some classes had an easier time of this than others. Not every of the original classes was made to succeed well on its own, nor was every specialization viable for end-game content. To some this was an excellent example of the impact of meaningful teamwork. Certainly, a Shadow Priest was not viable on its own without significant gear but with a friendly group they could topple any challenge. This also highlights a glaring issue where some classes, such as the Warrior, truly only had one viable raiding specialization that they only took two talent points in. DPS warriors were laughed out of any raiding guild hoping to go top tier, simply because other classes did what they do better.

Certainly, we could admonish several of Classic’s earlier systems for its endgame. In current popular standards they are certainly lacking, from a near mechanic-less recycled raid encounter system requiring at most 25 people of a 40 man raid team to down an encounter, to a PvP rewards system that was a constant uphill grind week after week. Neither of these were remotely optimal for, ‘casual players,’ which Warcraft was essentially catering to with its forgiving systems in comparison to games of the time like Everquest. However, these tied into the main draw for World of Warcraft and developed this fundamental principle of its design wholly: Community.

I do earnestly recommend your perusal of a book called The WoW Diary by John Staats, one of the game’s original designers. Its clear reading through the development processes outlined by Mr. Staats that Blizzard didn’t quite have an idea what they were developing when it came to building their World of Warcraft. But as the game began to take shape outside of its failure of a launch and its community built they continued to reinforce systems that drove a community oriented focus. Server Transfers were non-existent back in Classic Warcraft and as such your server identity and personal reputation were a big deal.

WoW Wednesday: A World of Warcraft Classic Take
Those known as good tanks were quickly famous on their servers. Rogues like Angwe, terrors of the enemy faction, were feared by players of all calibers for their underhanded techniques. Unreliable people and dastardly ninja-looters were publicly shamed and reviled. As such systems like the Honor Grading and Raid Attunement systems built upon those concepts of mutual togetherness. True you could ascend to a point alone but working with others it became possible to press further than ever before. As Warcraft left its infancy and was later honed and refined into more modern systems players know today, the idea of community was put at its forefront.

That, in my opinion, is the greatest draw of Classic WoW, and why I will not go back outside of a professional capacity. The archaic systems the game has left behind make the entire experience incredibly sluggish in a world where some players only have a small amount of time to progress. While every system, from talents to combat, is more impactful due to this reduced pace and higher difficulty, there’s less game involved in this version of Warcraft than there is now. What will ultimately make or break the Classic experience will be its community, and that relies on the hub of players it must draw from. While Warcraft has its own host of problems set in Battle for Azeroth, Classic was never a finished game to start with. Unlike repeatable dreary daily quests, or fundamentally broken artifact systems, what will put Classic in the greatest danger will be if its community-oriented systems that will bring the gold to the surface of its players or be exploited by the muck beneath the water.

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About Phil DeMerchant

A young pundit of the Industry, Phil first fell in love with gaming through World of Warcraft and the 3D platformers of the Playstation Era. Honing his expertise over years of reporting, he now focuses on investigative work on appraising and evaluating industry practices.