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.