Most of the World of Warcraft fandom of late has turned their attention near fully to the looming shadow of WoW Classic.
I can’t blame anyone, myself included – in a lack of meaty 8.2.5 reveals past the initial datamining burst, there’s not much to talk about in live. BfA remains a contentious expansion, at best, and until more of my readers experience the joy of Final Fantasy XIV (which takes a fair amount of time to get to, to be fair), it only makes sense to talk about where the shared experiences are.
One thing with Classic that I can’t stop thinking about is the aspect of what comes after. In live, I’ve predicted an immediate guildpocalypse for many smaller guilds who will probably lose a double-digit percentage of their raiding core, at least for those first few weeks. In Classic itself, we know that Blizzard has plans for 6 phases of content with a staggered rollout, which means that some of the game will be odd compared to the vanilla experience (10 player Upper Blackrock Spire will be a standard at launch, for instance, but without the Dungeon set upgrades to obtain, and the same for 5 player timed undead-side Stratholme).
But what comes after all of that?
We know now, from interviews with the Blizzard team a few months ago, that the possibility of Classic Burning Crusade or Wrath servers is on the table, at least in a vague sort of way. I want to explore this a bit today, and for the MMO vanguard (or Vanguard, if you liked that game, I suppose), this will probably be heavily trodden ground for you, but for us fresh-faced WoW fans, this is all unexplored territory!
Classic Evolves, But How?
To current WoW fans, blissfully unaware of progression servers or the experience of relived expansion servers in other MMOs, the idea of rolling out TBC/Wrath is a binary question – do they or don’t they? However, in the decision tree of that process, it is the first step of many.
Rolling out an expansion into a Classic environment carries a boatload of new problems to think about past the initial decision. Some players will want to remain locked at level 60, and be in an environment where others who feel the same are, so that level 60 activities can carry on as normal. Some will want to take their existing Classic characters, at level 60, forward into the expansion content, as they would have when TBC first went live in January 2007. Others may want a fresh leveling experience, to replicate what they had when they first started playing during TBC.
These problems then multiply when a second expansion enters the fray…and that is likely where it stops, unless the fervor mounts for Classic: Cataclysm (I would play that!).
So what are the solutions? Well, let’s brainstorm a bit!
New Expansion is Progression Only: Let’s say Blizzard rolls out a TBC server, or 10. These servers start everyone at 1, in the TBC experience. You can roll the original races or the TBC added races, level your characters, and then partake in the end game 70 experience, which would likely roll out in 4 phases (Karazhan/Gruul/Magtheridon, Serpentshrine Cavern/Tempest Keep, Black Temple/Zul’Aman, Magister’s Terrace/Sunwell Plateau).
Progression Servers Plus Character Transfer: A second possible category would be to have progression-only servers and then perhaps a handful of transfer servers – or, perhaps, just a free-for-all with transfers allowed, as the concept of progression may not mean much to a WoW crowd. I expect that there would be a window to move a character to a TBC server, or a Wrath one in the futur, after which the service would be paid, of course. Phases and content rollout remain identical to the first plan.
Character Copy?: Perhaps a middle-ground would allow a player to copy a character to a TBC/Wrath server, allowing that person to play on both sides of the fence.
Classic Servers All Flip to Expansion: The chaotic evil choice, but one Blizzard could make – roll out the expansion like it’s 2007 again, prepare to drink the tears of a lot of nerds.
Other Considerations: Blizzard’s approach to vanilla Classic is already going to create a few anachronisms, like reduced dungeon headcount due to the tuning of the endgame dungeons that came in later patches, changes to gear that came down later – particularly with green gear, and the full set of class revamps being available for endgame content immediately, which will change the shape of Molten Core raids early on and will have effects throughout the phases of content rollout. However, it is worth considering that this applies in a few ways to TBC too. 2.4, the final pre-3.0 patch for TBC, was the first time the experience curve for leveling was played with. It is a distant memory now, but when TBC launched, experience was not adjusted for 1-60, because the curve flattening came much later, during that last patch. If Blizzard used the same approach for TBC, leveling to 60 will be a fair amount easier on a TBC Classic server than it would have been during the TBC launch window.
There are combat changes, too. 2.4 introduced the shortening of spell GCD with spell haste, adjusted healer mana regeneration to tie in with intellect as well, causing increases in Intellect to also positively affect mana regen, weapon skill grinding was shortened for the 1-295 point range, diminishing returns for honor in PVP was removed, and raid drops throughout TBC content were increased. That is a lot of change and all of these have substantial gameplay impact that can fundamentally change the early content experience for a lot of players. It is, in many ways, a similar gamble to allowing vanilla Classic to use the game state from 1.12 – the changes are transformative in many ways and reflect what WoW would become moving forward, but they also reflect better gameplay, IMO. The launch talent trees were garbage for a fair few specs, so using 1.12 for vanilla is a good idea because it reflects Blizzard attempting to balance and tune classes as they did at the time. Likewise, changes like the GCD reduction from spell haste represent a better, more natural style of play for casters and brings them more into line with their melee brethren. Mana regen changing can fundamentally alter the early TBC endgame, as my raiding experience in TBC was being a shadow priest whose damage didn’t really matter – because I was there to be a mana battery for the casters and especially the healers.
I think the fascinating thing about Classic servers as a business model are these questions – Blizzard had to spend much of last year’s hype cycle for Classic managing expectations, talking about why using 1.12 was the right play, why they did that, and how they made sure the experience maintained a degree of authenticity for people who were watching with a skeptical eye. Should Blizzard decide to roll out Classic expansions, the skepticism and need for validation of decisions will increase – server selection and supported play modes will be heavily criticized, and arguably, the quality of life changes made through TBC mean that starting with 2.4 represents a fundamentally different experience to the majority of TBC, as 2.4 was a shorter-lived patch cycle for that era.
Wrath will have some similar choices to make, particularly because content rollout will likely need to affect the emblem systems.
I am sure at this point that Blizzard will release expansions for classic long-term. The questions around how and why they’ll roll them out in certain ways are the ones I can’t wait to see answered.