Okay, I’m going to start this post with a controversial, bad statement. I expect it will be an unpopular sentiment, but I will explain it throughout this post and circle back to it at the end – starting with an overly simplified version of my opinion on WoW: Classic and filling that out with explanation.
Okay, here goes.
I hate WoW: Classic.
This isn’t the first time I’ve shared some version of this opinion, but probably the first time I’ve done so this directly.
Before heading down to the comments to tell me I’m wrong, let’s flesh that thought out more!
What Made The Game Fun Cannot Be Reproduced
The original thrill of WoW, at its release in 2004, was that the game was this large, unknown thing. The world (of Warcraft) was at least partially fleshed out, largely in the Warcraft RTS series, and primarily with the events in Warcraft III, but there wasn’t any way to predict how the loosely defined RTS maps, with resource nodes and expansion bases, would translate to a living, breathing MMO world.
Further, much of the story of World of Warcraft actually deviated sharply from Warcraft III, dealing with older threats, some of which were very minimally developed in Warcraft I and II. Players expecting Arthas as the Lich King, Illidan brooding about, Jaina doing things, and Thrall leading the Horde’s growth as citizens of Azeroth only got about one and a half of those things. The rest of the lore, as delivered, was world-building similar to the first 40 minutes of most superhero movies during the first movie in a series.
These things were important, but largely, the biggest thing that cannot be reproduced is the mystery of the gameplay of WoW. The early days of 2005, as people were gradually hitting level cap and beginning to step into raids, were defined by people not knowing all that much about how the game actually worked. While fansites gradually added databases, our main hubs were sites like worldofwar.net (who no longer exists, but they gave me a shirt at the first Blizzcon!), Thottbot (which either gave your computer a nasty infection or served up semi-useful quest data and comments that only kind of helped and was made by a high-end raider on my home server of Cenarius-US, Thott), and a WoW section on perennial Everquest fan site Allakhzam (which later became ZAM network, launching WoWhead, buying out Thottbot and other resources and becoming something of a titan in the fan site landscape). The quest databases on these sites, while useful, were not nearly as strong as the immediate availability of information we have today. We also didn’t have anywhere near the level of detail of what bosses, raid bosses, and dungeon mechanics existed, resulting in a lot of manual discovery of these things. Boss attempts were wipefests as people struggled to discover the right ways to execute against mechanics. Just watch this video of my Vanilla guild killing Razorgore in Blackwing Lair for the first time (I’m Syladylin in the video, the constantly jumping Night Elf priest with a Benediction equipped!)
So, where am I going with this? Well, WoWhead is launching a classic site, including the old comments imported from Thottbot. Everyone has broadband internet and many have multiple monitors, meaning that access to easy quest solutions is going to be very straightforward. The information economy around WoW has never been as robust as it is today, and all of the usual players will be diving into Classic. You’ll be able to quickly and easily pull up tons of information on how to do every little thing, with leveling guides to maximize XP gain, boss guides for every raid in Classic, and dungeon guides to easily speed through challenges like 60 minute Stratholme and more. There is no sense of discovery to be had from this, and while it is easy to say that you could just not look, in practice, there is another challenge to that…
Vanilla WoW Was SIMPLE, and That Limits the Depth
There are many ways in which classic will be more deep and fulfilling than BfA, to be clear. Talents, ranking up spells and abilities, resource management, and gold farming will all be more interesting and challenging than BfA currently is on these fronts. However, the thing that relates back to the first point is that the dungeon and raid bosses of Vanilla are all really simple. The core repeatable content of the game is these bosses, and well, they aren’t great. At the time, that Razorgore video I shared above was a difficult acheivement – many guilds hit a wall at Razorgore and if not there, then at Vaelestrasz afterwards. But let’s break down those bosses.
Razorgore – pick up and kite the adds, have a rotation of players mind control Razorgore to break eggs, maybe soothe dragonkin to make the kiter easily able to manage while the DPS burn adds. Once done with eggs, burn the boss as random players are hit with Conflagrate, making sure to clean up adds to avoid unnecessary damage.
Vael – position your ranged cluster to avoid tail swipes and chain cleaves, spread melee around spaced to avoid chain cleaves and not on the tail, have a rotation of tanks available to pick him up as Burning Adrenaline goes out, slowly burning your tank roster and some of your DPS – kill him before he kills you. Probably also wear fire resistance, too.
They sound somewhat complicated, but are they really? As someone who did them – no. The fights took time to learn, yes, but a lot of the mechanical complexity in those vanilla raid bosses was broken down to tight tuning – high health totals, high outgoing damage, and constant checks on resources. These are fun ideas, and they work fairly well, but they also don’t offer much in the way of variation. Vael was designed to push your raid’s DPS output to the max, a challenge as it requires a lot of tanks and pretty constant healing, but gave you effectively limitless resources with which to accomplish it. Razorgore, similarly, basically breaks down to proper, tight execution on the add kiting and the Conflagrate.
The Rough Edges of the Game Are Very Rough, and Many Are Not Prepared
The thing about Vanilla is that it has lots of things that are great – but the game in that state is more or less a foundation upon which the, frankly, better systems of Burning Crusade and beyond are built. Reagents are a hot mess, and the systems of buffs and debuffs that comes with them aren’t great, even if they are iconic at this point. Class designs were awful, with good bits in many but a lot of poor decisions. My vanilla raid guild had between 6-8 retribution paladins, and nearly all of them got stuck healing. Our healer core, such as it was, consisted of 8 priests, of which I was one – as Shadow, using Mind Flay to debuff bosses with Shadow Vulnerability so the Warlocks could do more damage, while they put up Curse of Elements to help the Mage’s damage. Threat, such as it existed, required your warrior tank to put up multiple stacks of the Sunder Armor debuff to draw enough threat, and DPS startup was often dictated by this. If you waited out the Sunders, you could DPS in relative peace, but if not, hoo boy.
Many specs were outright broken, and at the time, it took the entirety of the Vanilla patch cycle for everything to be rebalanced for classes. You’ll at least get that all right at launch with Classic, but even still, it wasn’t what we would perceive of today as balanced and was more a “balance.” At the time, the community accepted ideas like hybrid tax, the DPS dominance of pure DPS classes, ideas about what tanks were viable (mostly prot warrior with a tiny sprinkling of feral druids) and what healers could be used (largely priests of any flavor). Today, these would be very unpopular. Imagine getting told you can never raid as a Protection Paladin, because you won’t be up to snuff. That would suck.
And will suck, unless…
Part II: Where The Negatives of Classic in 2018 May Save It
However, there is a very real possibility that the very information economy I mentioned earlier as ruining the other bits of fun in exploration and discovery, may also save the gameplay balance issues. Why is that?
Well, remember, at the time, all we had to go on for class theorycrafting was Elitist Jerks and fan forums. While not bad, these resources could be tough to penetrate as they used ridiculously high level mathematics and were presented in forum-thread format, making the task of parsing out usable data rough.
In 2019, however, we have WoWHead with the old Thottbot comments and more to come. We’ll be able to use modern, high-CPU usage DPS meters, sites like WarcraftLogs, and the advanced tools of our modern age. At the time of launch, in 2004, it only took a bit of communal wisdom to tell everyone that prot pallies sucked and should never be played, and it spread, and that was it. In 2019, the question will rise again – “weren’t prot pallies bad at tanking?” But this time, we can all gather tons of immediate feedback – DPS, threat levels, mitigation, a myriad of performance metrics that would have been much more difficult to gather in 2005, if not altogether impossible. These addons and tools also do a lot of parsing and evaluating that data – you could, theoretically, prove that Paladins are the best tank in Vanilla and everyone will be running 40 player Naxxramas with Judgment Armor clad tanks!
Probably not, though. Paladins have a banana suit for Tier 1 armor and they smell.
Efficient Routes May Not Be For Everyone, All The Time
While I do think that the extreme hardcore players constantly caterwauling about wanting Classic will be the types to push the most efficient leveling and gameplay routes, and will likely burn out, that doesn’t mean you or I have to. Even with a guide, the thing about the design of Vanilla is that the world is made to be large, and every quest, past the first 20 levels, really pushes this. You’ll, VERY FREQUENTLY, get a quest that sends you to the other continent. Is the story content there to justify it? Eh, not really. There’s a vague reason to share information, go over there. The thing about this, though, is that while it is annoying, and often inconvenient, it sucks you into the World…of Warcraft. Modern WoW design, in fact, literally everything since TBC, has emphasized self-contained zones. You finish a series of zone stories, and wrap up the zone, and then leave. Maybe endgame content will tie the zones together with the sense of a unified continent, but not always. A lot of times, zones are just zones, and if you couldn’t cross the border between them easily, you might not even know they were next to other zones.
Vanilla players will likely die, still possessed of the knowledge of what zones border each other and how to get from Booty Bay to Cenarion Outpost. Meanwhile, I’m not sure I could name more than 8 flight points in each of the newest three expansions, even though I know the zone names.
In Conclusion – Maybe I Don’t Hate WoW: Classic After All, But I Am Wary Of It
And so now we must return to my original, large statement – do I actually hate WoW Classic?
Not really, no. (got’em!)
But I am also not particularly excited for it. Why not?
Well, largely, to me, vanilla WoW is about a point in time more than the game itself. I remember buying the game immediately upon a direct deposit in June 2005, staying up all night with 4 Rockstar energy drinks to get to level 10. I was shaking at work, with a pinky that wouldn’t stay on my mouse. I went to a waterpark later that same day, and then returned home and continued to play…a lot. I got a girlfriend a month later, my first one, but I kept playing. I hit level 40 in Stranglethorn Vale on my first character, Syladylin the priest, on the last day of the first Blizzcon, at the show, in the demo area – a feat they would absolutely not allow today.
To me, Vanilla WoW is a great set of memories in my mind – this period in time where being an adult was fucking simple and freeing. I could stay up all night playing games, playing WoW, and an Alterac Valley that took 8 hours for a short run, or 24 hours a week spent raiding, was okay. My bills were getting paid, and I was slowly but surely sinking the first hours of what has amounted to over a year in real time spent on this game in the last 13 years. Playing a thing that emulates that classic experience will never be the same – because the life around it is so different and the world it will exist in is just too different to ever have it feel the same.
The only way to get the authentic experience is a time machine.
But I appreciate that Blizzard has, even technically, managed to get as close as they could.
Even if it isn’t quite for me.