It is a slippery slope, this one.
Classic WoW brings with it a load of new, unanswered questions, ones that I think are a potential minefield for Blizzard to navigate.
It is interesting that now that Blizzard themselves are doing a legacy server, suddenly the floodgates have opened for people to request new things be added to the legacy game. I’ve seen requests for flying, new character models, new animations, acheivements, class balance, newer PvP features, etc – you name a non-Classic thing, it’s probably been requested.
The tricky thing for Blizzard to move through here is this – what exactly constitutes “classic?” We don’t all really agree, and that is perhaps the biggest obstacle to it happening.
When it was a fan-developed project, with Nostalrius into Elysium into crowdfunding fraud, people understood that they couldn’t really ask for a lot of things. Players had to use old versions of the existing client, patched up to work with fabricated server code that wasn’t quite right, but was close enough. New models couldn’t really be added. Flying didn’t exist in the way we use it today in those builds. It was understood that the teams behind these projects really couldn’t add much to it, and that it in-fact took a lot of effort from these teams to just barely emulate a passable version of the Vanilla WoW experience.
We all remember it differently, 13 years past its release date. Not one of us remembers the full truth of it – not even Blizzard.
That’s why it is so fascinating to me to see the various requests and retrospectives coming out on the original game as Blizzard gears up to start development. Many things we think were workable in Vanilla weren’t. Many things we thought weren’t in Vanilla were. The rub is this – Blizzard doesn’t really, fully know either. Much of the game’s server code was retired with the old hardware, so a lot of the scripting of certain mechanics is lost to time, barely preserved in some state in the current, shipping game. Sure, they have a big list of things they can easily summon back into being – quest lists, design documents, perhaps even old databases and builds, being able to intricately reverse-engineer their own handiwork for the sake of recreating the experience as accurately as possible.
But I find that the arguments in the community about what Classic should be are interesting, mainly because I too struggle with finding where the line is. I like the new character models, and think they could fit with the original WoD animations that were made to mirror the old ones. But that is an arbitrary line itself – why do I think the models are acceptable but not the new animations from Legion? Is that even a valid viewpoint? Likewise, some people think achievements would be fine – myself among them, but others will dispute that, stating that it takes the fun of exploration out of the game with an achievement list that can push you into doing content in a way you otherwise wouldn’t – stripping the sense of wonder and mystery out. Some people want flying – and its laughable given the way the game was built in 2004, but is there perhaps space for it? If we arbitrarily draw our own lines as to what Classic “is” – then what stops us from making it comparable to Battle of Azeroth but only with that old content?
All of that is without even touching the other huge debate – what truly should Classic itself be? Most would say Vanilla – fair. But does it launch at 1.0 with all of the shipping bugs and problems, then patch in the original patches on a similar schedule? Does it eventually upgrade to Burning Crusade “Classic?” Does it just launch at version 1.12, with all the class rebuilds done and every tier of Vanilla raiding present and available? Do we get to do the AQ event again?
The problem with using nostalgia as a new product is this – we all have different tastes in what is “classic” and what is timeless to us. I, for one, really liked Cataclysm – would Classic eventually move in that direction? If so, would I be the only one playing at that time? If it launches right at 1.12, then those who never got to try Blackwing Lair without their class rebuild complete may never get the experience of raiding while also being a fundamentally broken design! Many of the things we associate as Classic weren’t in 1.0. Lightwell didn’t exist for Priests until their rebuild. Many class iconic talents and abilities didn’t exist until their respective rebuilds.
Further, the original game was really open to allowing a lot – my guild had 5 ret pallies in Molten Core – but our standards were also hidden as DPS meters just weren’t that common. In 2017, would you allow a low-tier melee with almost no good damage and precious little utility to come to a raid, when you can see the numbers? Sure – Blizzard could balance the performance to a modern standard, but again – is that really and truly “Classic?”
I’ve come around a bit on Classic – I never leveled Horde toons until Cataclysm, so I kind of want to try it, but at the same time, what defines that experience is so narrow that it is a dangerous tightrope to walk even for Blizzard, since much like the fan teams, they too are effectively going to have to reverse-engineer their own product to try and reconstruct how things worked.
Sure, it’s tempting to want Classic with modern graphics and polish, but that is a slippery slope – as are many of these questions.
It ultimately rests with Blizzard to define what they will market and (likely) sell to us as WoW Classic – but each choice carries with it groups of supporters and detractors, and it will be fascinating to see just how Blizzard peels the layers of this onion apart.