So now we have a date at the end of August for World of Warcraft: Classic. That’s actually a lot later than I had expected, but I think it makes a certain amount of sense; I expect that the live game’s next patch will be timed aiming at another game’s expansion release, and so Classic winds up coming in with enough lead time that fans can migrate over seamlessly. Even if “migration” doesn’t appear to be what’s going to happen, for the most part.
To the surprise of no one, we had an interesting discussion in work chat about exactly this development, with the writers who took part in that discussion chattering back and forth about whether or not any of us would be diving right in there. Bree was actually the one who expressed my thoughts before I did, in fact; to paraphrase, what she wants back isn’t the original launch version of the game, but Wrath of the Lich King, and not even really that.
But let’s step back a bit, because before I dive into that, I want to talk a little more about my thoughts on the game as a whole.
No dungeons, no problem
Everyone knows that there’s going to be no queueing up for dungeons in the game’s Classic version because that didn’t exist in the game until the later half of Wrath of the Lich King. This means that running a dungeon is going to be much more of a chore, one I’m frankly not looking forward to. However, I think it’s interesting to think about that facet of the game, because what we think of as the game’s dungeons has changed a lot since launch – and the emphasis on same.
Put simply, in the vanilla game the instanced and non-instanced dungeons were really kind of the same thing; they were big and difficult areas you existed in over a period of time. It wasn’t until Wrath of the Lich King that dungeons started turning into more of a series of experience setpieces and you were expected to run them more readily (first we got our daily quests to push you to run them, then our queue with daily rewards).
The difference is that the game is, well, not built around dungeons in the same way. Instead of emphasizing running and re-running dungeons, my memories have more to do with running dungeons rather irregularly, usually more for quest rewards than the hopes of drops. It was a very different way to play the game and a generally different experience.
For people who don’t prefer hanging out in chats and slowly assembling parties, dungeons are going to be less of a thing. But they also don’t need to be as much of a thing, which is interesting to consider.
Things that actually feel fun
You know what I’m looking forward to playing again? Paladin. But not because Retribution Paladin was good at this point in the game’s history. It took a long time for that to be a thing, and quite frankly this was when any serious top-end content required a Holy Paladin to be healing and nothing else. But with the game being less about dungeons, it also meant that you could kind of opt to ignore that fact, and just go out and do some things with Retribution.
And what was great about Retribution? Well… Seals. Auras. Nigh-on invulnerability as you slowly whittled through things, thanks to talents boosting your survivability substantially. Sure, your gameplay was often heavily passive and it could have some really boring stretches, but I still remember how much I enjoyed swinging around my big two-hander and clearing enemies out, even if it was on the slower side.
Of course, it was still fun to play Retribution with those elements in both The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King. Those expansions occasionally trimmed elements I liked, but they were usually minor edits. It felt more and more like the big changes to classes and specs were fundamentally changes of addition, and it was only as the game wore on that it felt like I was losing more and more of what made the class fun for me.
Yes, a melee strike and such was a nice addition to the class toolkit in TBC. But it didn’t change that, well, I still had an assortment of seals and auras that I could swap between as the situation dictated to provide a passive benefit.
This just gets me back to thinking about the modern state of the game, and about Paladins. Sure, the Paladin is in a fine spot now damage-wise. It’s within a reasonable margin of other specs. But we no longer have those iconic defining features, and I think a lot of other Paladin players looking forward to Classic are looking forward to… well, that. And that brings us full circle.
Everything old is new again
I think, at the heart of the matter, there’s a truth to the statement of “you think you want [Classic], but you don’t.” It’s not an accurate statement, but it is getting at a heart of player discontent not really being fixed by Classic per se.
Classic is a fixed thing, a museum. Yes, I know, there’s going to be a staggered set of content rollouts, but it still ends after a certain point. And while I’ll no doubt check it out and enjoy my seals and such again for a bit, I have absolutely no doubt that I will indeed get bored after a time and be done with what is, essentially, a finished game.
Furthermore, I have no doubt that there are people who are, primarily, nostalgic not for a game but for a time. We all have our mental narratives about how people used to be more sociable or friendly, or how having no queues meant everyone was friends, or whatever. They’re rarely accurate, but they interact with memory and experience in such a way that they feel accurate. As someone with a long dislike for slowly forming groups for content, I know that I did a lot fewer dungeons in Vanilla… but I also know that I still cleared every dungeon in the game at least once, and clearly I did it more than just once or twice. So my own memory of “this is intolerably annoying” is just as tinged as someone remembering that as the golden age of server communities and friends.
I feel like “you think you want it, but you don’t” is more targeted at those groups. Yes, the museum is going to get boring. No, playing the old game won’t bring back the old time. But there’s a reason why a lot of people do want Classic that has nothing to do with either of the above, and that’s even excluding the people who are just curious about how it looks.
A comment I saw the other day was all about how the current live game offers no sense of progression, whereas in Classic you can spend time farming rare materials to get a good item crafting and not relying on randomness. This is, to be fair, kind of a poor argument against the random nature of the game in its Classic state, since we’ve had better systems added to the game since then…
But that doesn’t matter, does it? Those systems are gone now. They’ve been removed.
Remember that quote from Bree back in the beginning? She said that she wanted Wrath back, but immediately amended it by saying that she doesn’t actually want Wrath back; she wants the philosophy that informed that expansion, the design chops and dedication to the game’s foundation while also moving forward. And when your options are the husk of the game that exists now or Classic?
Yeah, Classic looks a lot better. It’s why I keep hoping that Classic is going to be focused more on that as a reminder, as a trip back to remember why people liked this way of playing the game. It’s why I want the game to turn back the clock, to undo the changes that really did start in Cataclysm and have shot all the way through the essence of the title.
You can’t go back again. But this is going back again, back to the point that’s at least closer to when the game was fun than the current state of things. Unfortunately, there’s no way we’re really going to get Wrath back, obviously, so this is the closest we’ll get.
Unless, of course, it isn’t.
Yes, tune in next week for a completely nuts piece about somehow rolling the clock back and offering you a chance to import your Classic character in a very, very weird column. Until then, you can leave your feedback down below or mail it along to firstname.lastname@example.org. And before that, I should actually explore the Classic beta for a trip down memory lane. (Cue up the Nas track, would you?)