WoW Classic In The Wrath Era – My View On The Pending Launch of WoW’s Most-Played Expansion

WoW Classic gets Wrath of the Lich King, as expected, albeit much sooner than I think a lot of folks expected – next week, just over 3 years after the original Classic launched.

Wrath of the Lich King Classic is…an interesting point in the game’s Classic experiment, to say the least. On the one hand, I think when Classic was first brought forward as a concept, for as many people expressed support of Vanilla, I think there was an undercurrent of hope that the game would wind its way here, to this expansion. For a great many players, Wrath is the de facto “Golden Age” of World of Warcraft – the expansion with the biggest subscriber numbers, the largest and most active community engagement, a series of awesome dungeons, banger raids, and a strong base of fun non-raid, non-dungeon content with the daily quests added throughout the expansion, including jousting minigames at the Argent Tournament and the drake flying around the Oculus (just maybe not as the capstone dungeon boss mechanic there, though!). On the other hand, I think there is a large base of the Classic fandom that is less-than-thrilled that Vanilla and TBC were sped-through to get here, the expansion that many players of the “classic mindset” would mark as the fall of WoW – the point where the modern game takes shape. Wrath in reality had the dungeon finder, endgame currency systems that placed focus on gearing and power progression as the standard “way to play,” and tucked the story conclusion of Arthas, a story many Warcraft fans were eager for from Warcraft III and the RTS days, behind the raid gate of Icecrown Citadel, with the only other way to view the cinematic in the game being touching the Tyrion statue added to the town square in Dalaran.

For me personally, Wrath Classic is kind of a reckoning of sorts. I’ve been clear that I’m not in the target demographic for WoW Classic throughout – because I believe in leaving the memories alone, because I think that a lot of the fondness I have for those old points in the game comes from the memories of circumstance, time, and place that no longer exist in the same way, and because I generally am a fan of the ways in which WoW has evolved away from the gameplay models in those older expansions, but Wrath was also the expansion where I really solidified my love of World of Warcraft. It’s maybe my second-favorite era of WoW ever (hold your tomatoes, I enjoyed Cataclysm a smidge more) and it’s the point where I went from “WoW is pretty neat, I guess” to “this is my game now and for the next 14 years.” If any Classic era was going to have a chance to pull me in, Wrath is the one where I go from sideline skeptic to potential customer.

Here’s the thing – I really do like Wrath, and a lot of what I like about it has aged pretty well. If you raided, Wrath was a very raid-logging friendly expansion – with the introduction of tabard reputation gains, you could run a couple of daily dungeons, get yourself repped-up with the endgame reward factions easily, and then wait for raid time. It was an alt-friendly expansion, because catchup mechanics really started in this era as a fully fleshed-out concept with shifting Emblem rewards, new dungeons on both Normal and Heroic that offered increasing item level rewards, and Heirloom armor and weapons, allowing your main to kit your alts out in throwback appearance armor with experience buffs to make leveling easier. Wrath is the first expansion I had a stable of alts, including endgame-ready alts, and I raided Icecrown Citadel on four characters. Death Knights were an easy My First Alt ™ since you could just start at level 55 and run loose through the more streamlined TBC and beyond leveling content. Mostly for me though, was this – I hated the content design of Burning Crusade and it is, honestly, my least favorite expansion in WoW (yep, I said it, my actual most controversial take of all time) and after spending over half of TBC not playing at all, Wrath is what pulled me back in to WoW, and put me on the trajectory that has landed me, well, here.

But Wrath Classic in 2022 asks me to make a determination based on the current landscape of the game, of Blizzard, and of the community that plays, and well…I’m not so sure I want to even try it out.

Firstly, as ever in 2022, Wrath Classic asks me to support Blizzard, a company whose presence in the spotlight over the last couple of years has been…well, troubled, to put it mildly. I’m always willing to admit that a good-enough content drop could convince me to unenthusiastically pony up to play, but the bar of “good enough” is one that is high for me, high enough that I’m rapidly approaching a year of not playing any Blizzard products. Granted, supporting Classic just means putting up a subscription fee on a monthly basis, and that isn’t as high of a bar to clear – but it is a bar in need of clearing, all the same.

Secondly, Classic invites the dilemma of needing a character ready to get into the content, at least if you’re not interested in the fresh start server. Leveling is, for me, often one of those things in WoW, especially old WoW, that I am not fond of, and as someone who stayed off the Classic train, I’d have to either start fresh anyways, or buy the Wrath Classic boost, and that then becomes a circular reference to the point above, because now Blizzard is asking me for money on top of a sub, and that recontextualizes the decision around playing Classic. If I had been really into Vanilla Classic and at least had a level 60 character, there’d be much less resistance on my part, but as it stands now, that is a pretty decently-sized obstacle.

Thirdly, I think that a lot of my old objections to Classic remain viable for Wrath as well. I loved Wrath of the Lich King as an expansion and content, but a lot of my fondest memories of it have so little to do with the content itself that any lesser experience in the same content feels like a very real risk of tarnishing those memories. I know, intellectually, that raid content has advanced beyond the designs of Ulduar and ICC, and I am not foolish enough to beat the drum as some Classic supporters did to say that Classic content has harder raids (which is obviously untrue) and is thus better. I don’t want the wonder and intrigue of zoning into Ulduar for the first time in 2009 to be stripped bare by a resurrection of that content in modern times. Is there every chance that it lives up to my old wonder at it? Sure, maybe – but then I liked Ulduar and raiding in Wrath because it was with my friends, going hard multiple nights a week, and in an era where the game still felt like this interesting place to explore. For me, newness was a part of the delight of it – is a part of the delight of many games, and outside of comfort games (like Sonic 3), I very rarely retread old content fresh for the sake of it.

Wrath as an era was so fun because it was the point so much of the game coalesced into this bigger thing for me – easy and mainstream access to machinima, the Nyhm music videos (which technically started in TBC, but…I was way out of WoW then!), the ascendance of fan sites and even the kiss/curse of datamining becoming mainstream with the growing profile of MMO-Champion. It’s the point where WoW went from a game I played to a hobby, where there was a growing number of ways to engage with the game outside of it, from a thriving blog scene to fan sites to YouTube gaining traction as fast internet and video creation tools became more mainstream. It feels like that era has come and gone for WoW and I imagine that Wrath would feel hollower for me as a result. Such a big part of what was fun about the game then was that atmosphere of community around it.

Fourthly (fourthly? Is that a thing?), speaking of community, my window into WoW Classic’s community has always been, well, not the greatest. TBC has suffered pretty hard from immense levels of server consolidation, with most players flocking to a small handful of densely populated servers, leaving once-thriving realms high and dry. In a world where the pushback to Dungeon Finder amongst the Classic community is going to keep it out of the Classic game, this is perhaps not the kind of thing you want to see! That’s without mentioning that every time I get a glimpse of the Classic community from people enmeshed in it, it just seems kind of bad in a way that is similar to but unique from the mainline retail community. I’ve seen weird guilds built around anti-vaccine bullshit, overly aggressive meta play raid teams (you think retail is meta-slaved, oh lord just wait), and public chats just drowning in the most aggressive stupidity (which is probably the most like retail, to be honest). Given that I’d have to find a guild that would have a likeminded approach to content and environment, it seems like a task too daunting to undertake given all of that, all so that I can…play some content I already played and enjoyed 14 years ago. I liked it, don’t get me wrong, but the more hurdles that exist between me and that stuff for a second round, the less likely I am to play it at all.

That’s all the rub for me, in closing. I am glad that Classic exists, not for me, because it isn’t for me, but for everyone who gets some measure of enjoyment from it, and while we’re entering the era most likely to appeal to me, I find it difficult to muster a lot of excitement for a lot of the same reasons I haven’t been stoked for Classic before. I love WoW (as like, an idea, because obviously at present it and I are going through some turmoil lol) and I’ve been there for each of the eras of the game, so while Classic can sometimes seem like a great idea worth engaging with, it often feels like a retread absent some of the things I enjoyed most about the game at those points in time. That’s without addressing the tweaks and changes, like how balance shifts from starting on the “finished” game state has an effect on the gameplay to how additions like changed LFG tools and the just-announced “Heroic Plus” dungeons of Wrath Classic also change it in ways that don’t add much for me personally.

This one is a bit odd for me, because I’m not going to pretend to have any sweeping statements or larger community analysis – just me and my opinion on Wrath Classic. And now that it’s here, my hypothesis that it would be the era I would want to actually try hasn’t held true, at least, not yet. If you set foot into the icy reaches of Northrend next week, I hope you enjoy yourself.

8 thoughts on “WoW Classic In The Wrath Era – My View On The Pending Launch of WoW’s Most-Played Expansion

  1. I think you’re right; you can’t go home again. And that’s fine.

    For me, I only played probably 1/3 of the Wrath content, as I started playing during Wrath (about 9 months into the expac) and because of where my life was at the time (three kids, all of whom either in preschool or elementary school) or due to social anxiety, I simply didn’t raid or even run Battlegrounds. It was mostly just questing and dungeon running. And mining. Wrath Classic gives me a chance to go back and actually try out the Wrath raids, and while I initially thought that wasn’t going to happen, it does appear to be the case with a small group of friends running 10s. And I can live with that.

    Honestly, I just wish Blizz would have put the screws on the formation of these megaservers more quickly, because it’s likely to be a nightmare for at least a month on them once Wrath releases. I can understand not wanting to kill the part of Warcraft that is keeping everything afloat right now, but something has to get done and unfortunately they made their decision to not make a choice for far too long.

    (Okay, I’m waiting for another wrestling post. Will we be getting one sometime soon?)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I ended up using some of my retail gold to reactivate my account to be able to re-play the prepatch event. There were a few items I didn’t get the first time around that I wanted to get this time. Mainly on the tiny chance Blizzard ever connects the two systems or lets us transfer characters to retail.

    To keep this short, I rolled a DK, had fun, made it to 70 (Outlands questing … blech), got my goals completed and then my interest started to fade away. I did so much in Wrath that unless I went for the few things I didn’t have … and could use them in retail there’s little motivate for me to continue playing. It might be different if friends and guildies were going to play, but no one in my personal group seems to be interested in the game.

    I also have to say that the changes such as “Heroic Plus” or “No Dungeon Finder” also kill the point of Classic for me. If Blizzard is going to just change things whenever they feel like it, then I might as well play retail and the character I’ve spent far more time with.

    Blizzard already surveying about Cataclysm Classic makes me think they are just going to continue to roll out expansions in Classic until they catch up or get close to where retail is at. Similar, I guess, to the Everquest progression server reality. Cataclysm is where, though, my friends draw the line at nostalgia. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, a Cataclysm Classic server does to the Classic community.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find your experience feels like what I would expect if I ever actually tried getting into Classic – a little burst of motivation, a rapid decay once those goals are done, and then a general feeling of ennui. My friends are also, likewise, not really interested in Classic.

      The changes they are making are so interesting to me because I thought that was the whole point of bespoke “event” servers like Season of Mastery. Like, it’s fine to say “we want to tweak things or make changes for the sake of social design” but you can’t also call those baseline Classic, because it’s factually inaccurate! I didn’t hear much hype for Season of Mastery past launch, but it seems to have done its job as the “redesigned” Classic ideal, so I’m baffled they haven’t done that again. I think you could put stuff like the changes to Wrath on such a server and have it be a big deal that you roll out later to sustain interest. Just weird all around.

      For me, I think it’s good they continue on with Classic, to be honest. Even if no one plays Cataclysm or beyond, I think there’s inherent value to having those versions in a time machine as a preservation of gaming history (one of these days I’ll write more on that as a topic because it fascinates me). I genuinely want more people to try Cataclysm again through a modern lens, because I think it honestly gets some flak undeservedly as being this awful cesspit expansion when it had a lot of quite good content that was stuck on the shelf for too long. Honestly, if they do Cata Classic, I’ll probably break to try it just to test my own assumptions!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I don’t dislike Cataclysm, but I have no nostalgia for it. I ended up experiencing too much guild drama through it that I ended up taking my first break from Wow until mid-/late MoP. It doesn’t help that I can ‘re-experience Cataclysm’ (mostly) by using Chromie time in Retail.

        Season of Mastery for Classic just felt too soon. For someone not heavily in the era it felt more like a piece of filler than an solid variation of its own. I thought Blizzard would wait until Wrath Classic was over before trying any variations or restarting the Classic/BC/Wrath cycle over again. It looks like I was wrong, there.

        The big thing for me, as someone who will sit and watch, is the question “Will Cataclysm Classic have LFR and/or cross-server groups?”. With Blizzard killing the Dungeon Finder for Wrath (at this time, at least), I could see them trying to keep all of the group finder stuff out of Cataclysm. The problem is without it they would just give even more incentive for players to keep trying to form mega-servers in my mind. How Blizzard ends up handling mega-servers is an issue that will be interesting to see, especially as how it intersects with post-Wrath Classic expansions.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I didn’t even start playing WoW until WotLK. I played it solidly for over six months (Probably averaged 25 hours a week) and even then I didn’t hit max level. I only started playing because I’d run out of other mmorpgs to play (Really – I’d tried just about every one that was available in the West by then.) and I finally moved on because I felt I’d seen everything I wanted to in Azeroth and some new, more interesting possibilities were beginning to appearing the mmorpg space.

    I did really enjoy those six months, though. I don’t have the kind of nostalgia for the expansion that real WoW players do but it was my introduction to a game that I have played on and off ever since, so I do feel something of an urge to revisit my past there. I’m not going to, though, because Blizzard is still patently Blizzard. It just feels too uncomfortable to give them money. At this point I might conceivably drop in and check something out on my free account but I’m not about to subscribe. I’m waiting for the Microsoft buyout to go through (Or be stopped, although I don’t think that will happen.) before I re-assess whether I’d pay to play any of Blizzard’s games.

    By then, all the hype should have died down and if I play it will be at my preferred pace, with most of the playerbase most likely long past the content that interests me. Really, though, I’m a lot more interested to play Cataclysm Classic. That expansion always appealed to me and I’ve never even seen most of the zones in their revamped state. Pandaria Classic would be a possibility, too. By then, hopefully, Blizzard will be a company worth supporting again.

    ~+~ Extra line to avoid duplicate comment syndrome! ~+~

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Figures that your blog is the first place where I hear about this “heroic plus” thing!

    Honestly, if you really loved the original Wrath that much, you’re probably making the right decision. I say this as someone who adored the original BC and has found the classic version rather… lacking (I don’t know if you kept up with what I blogged about it). The content was still fun, but the whole social environment, coupled with the way Blizzard managed server populations, has not been great, and the whole experience left me rather disappointed and bitter.

    You’re totally right about the original Wrath being the golden era for fan content and machinima though! I ended up re-watching this little video the other day and it still brought a smile to my face.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I started in August of 2009 and played on a laptop that could barely run the game. I recall trying to navigate Dalaran at 2-3 FPS. I did a lot on my own, and it took me about 4 months to get to 80. For me, this is the heyday of Shadowpriests. This was in my mind the pinnacle of design for the class. I am going to give it a go, going to try on a new server at level 1 along with everyone else. It will certainly be interesting to see if years of knowledge will translate to being able to play better. I certainly have a much better computer, so I guess we will see.

    Liked by 2 people

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