This post is going to be the first of two. In this one, I’m going to split off the actual information and save the analysis and opinions for a follow-up, because I think there is a lot to discuss there but I’d rather not have an over-encumbered post full of both.
So let’s dive in.
The oft-speculated May 18th pre-patch date is accurate, although as ever, the “prepatch” for Classic is, in reality, just the date at which the game opens in a sort of limited state to allow some measure of popularity for determining layer counts on servers and the like. In Vanilla Classic, this was the point at which Blizzard allowed players to reserve names on servers, which gave an early indicator of success for the team to point at but also should have, in theory, allowed Blizzard to open more servers or beef up existing ones. They did some of that, but well, if you were online at Vanilla Classic launch two years back…you know how that went.
The May 18th date is important here for a handful of reasons. Firstly, it is the defined “snapshot” point, at which all characters on Classic servers must select one from a list of 3 choices – to stay forever locked to Vanilla content at level 60 with the existing rulesets, to move forward into Burning Crusade content (which will not open until June 1st) or to use Blizzard’s new Character Clone service to create a copy of a character, moving one forward into TBC content while leaving the other behind in Classic. Servers will fork off into Vanilla and TBC options, which Blizzard is calling “Classic Era” and “Progression.” So servers will go from names like “Ashbringer” to “Classic Ashbringer” and “Progression Ashbringer.”
The snapshot functions as such – all existing characters will have two versions created at prepatch – a Classic and a Progression. When you first log in, you make the choice to pick a path, which deactivates the other option. If you choose Progression, you march forward into TBC and the Classic character can no longer be played, and if you choose Classic, you remain as you are today, but are not able to take that character into TBC and any progress made after May 18th is locked to the version of that character it was obtained on. If you have a lowbie alt that you level on a Classic server after May 18th, that character’s copy on TBC does not gain any of the benefit of that play, and vice-versa. With this, the launcher will have unique clients for each version, so you’ll log in to Classic or TBC Classic – both maintaining unique patch versions.
The catch is where Blizzard’s first change is introduced. At any point on or after May 18th, you can decide then to play your one character on both types of realms, and to do so requires Blizzard’s Character Clone service. All this service does is simply make the inactive character type available to play – it does not transfer progress or update across realm types, it just simply unlocks the choice you turned down on first login so that you’ll have that character available when you log in to the client you declined the first time. This service in the US costs $35, and has no limitations on character count – you can pay to clone as many characters as you had prior to May 18th. Also worthy of note, Blizzard is not allowing you to undo the free choice of which type of realm to keep active, so if you make the wrong choice, undoing it will require paying for a clone!
Lastly, an issue for those staying locked to Vanilla-era Classic – guilds will not be preserved. The character clones for vanilla-era are being sent to technically-new servers, so the guilds will not transfer along with them. If you want to maintain your existing social network in Vanilla, you’ll need to recreate it, functionally. As the “Progression” servers remain the original server by definition, guilds will remain there, so if your goal is to play TBC with the same people, that will be easily supported, but if not…prepare for recreation!
As I mentioned above, the actual content-unlock date for TBC Classic is June 1st, with Blizzard’s now-standard global simultaneous launch, meaning those in the global east will be technically starting on June 2nd and my time zone starts at 3 PM on June 1st. On this date, players will be able to actually start TBC questing and start the process of moving from level 60-70. For the hangtime from prepatch to June 1st, players will be playing on the server of their choice (after making that selection) and with the content design paradigm appropriate to that era – Progression players in the TBC client with the TBC changes active, and Classic-era players locked to the current version of the Classic game exactly as it is today. The only thing that goes live early on the Progression servers is the ability to create Blood Elf and Draenei characters, both of which can be started on May 18th and can be leveled to 60 in the lull between. Well, maybe – it is still a rough road, although with the end-of-TBC experience curve changes active in those lower levels, you might be okay!
That leads nicely into the next aspect – boosting. As was mentioned at Blizzconline 2021, there will be a character boost option available on TBC Classic, which is a paid service. We now have the complete details, and there are actually two ways to get the boost. The first, which we expected based on the previous disclosures, is a flat boost purchase. We know now that it will be $39.99 in the US and will be only available once per WoW account. The boost gives you a level 58 character (with the boost unable to be used on Blood Elf or Draenei characters) and with that, grants Apprentice Riding skill, a race-specific mount, weapon skills leveled up to their level 58 equivalent (so 290), access to a selection of flight points (the wording suggests not all flight paths will be opened in this way), a set of level 58 green-quality gear, 4 Runecloth bags (14 slots apiece), and a “little bit” of gold. The boost itself is called a “Dark Portal Pass” and is also available as of May 18th, with the limit being that it can only be used on a Progression server character – no way to backdoor it into Classic to get into some last-minute Naxx runs!
Where things get trickier is that Blizzard is also offering a Deluxe Edition purchase for the launch of TBC. This option includes the Dark Portal Pass, but then also adds in a variety of standard-issue collectibles. You get 30 days of game time bundled in, a mount usable in TBC Classic with era-appropriate visuals and a facsimile version that is usable in Shadowlands, and the Path of Illidan toy and Dark Portal Hearthstone in TBC Classic only (both of which were WoW TCG loot items available at the time). This sells for $69.99 in the US and is also available on May 18th.
That is all there is to the factual, non-opinion part! Keep an eye out for the follow-up soon!