First impressions: World of Warcraft Classic is exactly what it says on the tin

    
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We do not regret to inform you of this at all.

The simplest analogy I can think of for World of Warcraft: Classic is being served a breakfast of toasted plain white bread with a generous dollop of butter. It’s not exactly good in an objective sense, perhaps, but it’s functional. And if your breakfast for the past few years has been stale brioche rolls smeared with toothpaste, it’s sure as heck going to feel like a revelation of good taste.

That sounds a little dismissive of WoW: Classic, which it really isn’t supposed to be; the thing is that as a game (or more accurately, a recreation of an older game), it needs be judged both by the standards of “is this a fun game” and “is it a faithful recreation of the game that it’s trying to recreate.” Fortunately for the fans looking for the latter, the question is answered almost right away, perhaps to a harsher degree than necessary; this game is very decidedly the classic WoW experience, even adjusting for my own memory and nostalgia filters.

My goal for this particular beta test was to recreate my original experience as closely as humanly possible, which meant starting out with a human paladin in the fields of Northshire Abbey. Of course, I can’t recreate the feeling of having no idea what I’m doing, nor can I recreate the far less powerful computer I was playing the game on at the time, so the result is that the game definitely looks somewhat prettier than it does in my memory; at the same time, it’s still using the old maps and character models, so that’s where the novelty ends.

Lest you harbor any thoughts that this would be some form of vanilla-plus, while I think that would be eminently doable, that’s not what you’re getting here. As much as I think it would be good to have that, I also think that it’s important to have the game in the state that it is now, warts and all from the original launch of the game.

Bork.

Yes, you need to manually change what rank you have on your spellbar; no auto-changing of anything. You also need to buy your training, and buy your crafting training, and buy weapon skills and level your weapon skills. Quest turn-ins show up on your minimap as dots like resources you have tracked, and quest objectives show up on your minimap not at all. It feels very much like the game I played back around launch, albeit with me older and hopefully wiser along the way.

The warts are substantial and the lack of quality-of-life features is notable, but let me make something absolutely clear. I’m not wishing that these things were different because I think the game is unplayable without them; I’m wishing that the quality-of-life changes were in the game because it’s hard to express just how much more fun it is playing the game even without all of them.

Make no mistake, the game definitely shows its age in a lot of ways. Combat is still pretty slow and plodding at low levels, it’s easy to get lost with a lack of efficient direction pointing you to what you ought to do next, and the list goes on. But right off the bat I was happy to be popping on seals and unleashing the Judgement effects, turning on my aura and maintaining my Blessings. It wasn’t just a nostalgia trip, either; it felt fun, remembering ability interplays I hadn’t even considered in ages because they’re no longer in the game.

Yes, I’m sure that just baking the damage increase of Seal of the Crusader’s Judgement into my abilities elsewhere makes just as much sense. But it reduces interactivity and choice, meaning that you can’t choose what judgement you need in a given situation and react accordingly. Heck, even just managing Seals feels like an important element of the class again, something that’s been entirely absent for ages.

That’s why I’m glad the warts are all there. Nostalgia can override memories of irritation, but honestly most of the irritations I found were ones I remembered well before actually playing. It was the gameplay that surprised me, a reminder of how much more fun the game was to play when fussing with talent points and such even with all of the old baggage hanging over the game.

I mean, you know what it looks like.

This ultimately left me feeling rather depressed. Not because of a fault with the Classic version of the game, though; far from it. All of the pre-emptive irritations I expected to have with it were still there, right down to the fact that it very much is the original game functionally unchanged. The more modern design elements creep in very slightly around the edges, but it’s clear that most of the care has been taken to ensure that you won’t notice the modern elements unless you look closely.

No, it’s just depressing to be reminded of the gap between what the game was and what it has running now. The actual moment-to-moment play feels more exciting, levels feel relevant, combat is not three buttons pressed over and over with basically no limit to the number of things you can fight. Running is actually a smart tactical decision at times.

Hence the analogy above. In many ways it’s difficult to really recommend the game, because it’s lacking in all of those quality-of-life features I take for granted these days. But the core of it that makes it fun to play is still right there. Adding the QoL features in wouldn’t make the game any less fun, because to pick out a random example, the lack of transmog doesn’t make it more or less fun to play. It’s the nature of the game itself.

Seeing no red at all, see no rain.From a technical standpoint, everything hummed along beautifully. The older models and assets meant that the game barely seemed to nudge at my computer’s performance, and the graphical options are one of the few things ported over wholesale from the modern client. It has limitations on how good it can look, of course, but it looks and feels right.

If that’s your biggest concern, that could be the end of the discussion; the game feels right at what it wants to be. This is the classic experience, as close to how you remember it as the passage of linear time will permit. So you needn’t worry if that was done properly. It feels like it’s supposed to feel.

If you’re wondering if the game is better than the live game… well, hence the analogy in the beginning. There are a lot of foundational issues that have never been addressed, and they’re still present here. At the same time, the actual core gameplay is a lot more fun, and it doesn’t suffer from the problems of no longer feeling like the same game for longer than two years at a stretch post-Cataclysm.

Do I see myself really diving headlong into it when it’s live? No, but not due to any failings on its part; the problem I have with it has nothing to do with the game getting things wrong, but with getting something right that I already know is right. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, what I really want is this game back, not the same-name-different-game that has been running since Cataclysm at this point.

But it succeeds at being exactly what it sets forth to be, and along the way it serves as a reminder of just how good its original form really was. So you can feel confident that Classic delivers on its promise, and perhaps hopeful that it might deliver a bit more potential reminder along the way.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
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strangesands

It’s time to call a spade a spade. Streamlining sucks the life out of games. MMORPGs do it. Board games do it. TTRPGs do it. Designers, please. Stop making everything so damn EFFICIENT.

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Jokerchyld

I’ve dabled in WoW since MoP, absolutely loved Legion and BfA left me lacking. After researching what WoW was like at Classic it was definitely the version that would speak to me. An “easier” Everquest clone? I’m in.

The biggest difference I’ve seen from those showing experience from the beta is Classic WoW is way more MMORPG where current WoW is more MMO.

So I look forward to Classic in August, but have the same question as many of you. What happens at 60? After I’ve raided for the 100th time? When I look at the Everquest progression servers, they have one time locked in PoP. There are still people there but many jumped ship to the newer progression servers (which seem to come out every year now).

I don’t see Classic WoW have an extended life after max and they will have to decide whether to move forward. And how far do they go.

kakalooya
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kakalooya

Seasons.
Also, TBC next.
There is much water still to roll down the Classic WoW river.

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Michael18

Very interesting to hear your opinion on this, Eliot.

Personally, I think that in comparing Vanilla/Classic WoW to the live version, we can learn a lot about today’s difficulties of the MMO genre in general. So I think it would be a worthwhile effort to explore this “gap between what the game was and what it has running now” further in future articles.

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Sorenthaz

No, it’s just depressing to be reminded of the gap between what the game was and what it has running now. The actual moment-to-moment play feels more exciting, levels feel relevant, combat is not three buttons pressed over and over with basically no limit to the number of things you can fight. Running is actually a smart tactical decision at times.

Does a good job of summing up my thoughts with WoW today and WoW back then. Back then it was so much more about the moment-to-moment experiences and basically living in a world and going through adventures solo or with others. Leveling to 60 wasn’t like an expectation or something to just rush to – it was an adventure and a challenge. The game threw a ton of obstacles at you and it wasn’t meant to be an easy/fast climb to endgame. Endgame wasn’t designed to be “yeah just spend 30-60 minutes a day to get your slot machine rolls”, it was something you could choose to do if you were willing to commit the time and resources to it.

I remember when seeing Onyxia with my own character sent tingles down my spine and let me in awe. I felt like I had achieved something I had only dreamed about ever reaching prior to that moment, having seen the pictures and videos. Same thing went for Ragnaros, again, a freaking momentous occasion and it truly felt like I had worked to get there. Hell, even reaching UBRS and seeing the room Leroy Jenkins ran through was a huge “oh my god this is so cool” moment.

Back then reaching the endgame wasn’t the expectation – it was an exemplary exception. Nowadays content is designed to be digestible in 30-60 minute chunks and what you do is irrelevant as long as you get lucky with your rolls. Running through LFR gives you a sense of “wow” for the first time but then after that it’s just formulaic grinding that you just put on a weekly checklist.

You weren’t handed achievements and told what were achievements back in Vanilla – you -made- your achievements. The game gave you a huge variety of things you could choose to pursue, and you basically got to choose what you wanted to do for your personal goals.

Somewhere along the way everyone got so entitled and solo-oriented to where it was expected that every piece of content should be streamlined to be digested by someone who doesn’t want to put time/effort and build a team with others. And in order to make sure everyone was happy, the game largely became catered to solo play and the ability to just lazily coast your way to higher levels of power.

Even though I won’t have the time to sink into it like I used to, I’m stoked for Classic because I can go back to feeling like I’m actually earning my accomplishments, and not just being handed them by some system that’s been reduced to a mindless formula that tells me what to do and how to play the game.

Kalivoo
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Kalivoo

so the result is that the game definitely looks somewhat prettier than it does in my memory

WoW Classic has been created using the new WoW racial models – those nicer models aren’t due to your PC being more powerful, lol..

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Togashi Kokujin

Sorry, need to correct you there: the models are the classic models, not the new ones. There isn’t even an option to switch to the new ones.

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Neurotic

Great write-up Eliot, thank you. I get what you’re saying about feeling depressed after. My general experience with emus and updates like this is similar; you get the old thing back and it makes you sad that the new thing isn’t more like it, while still wanting the new thing but…
It’s a strange-tasting cake, that’s for sure. :D

Kalivoo
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Kalivoo

First name basis, eh? Are you guys IRL buds?

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Neurotic

Nay, nay. Just a long-time reader. :)

PurpleCopper
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PurpleCopper

So what happens if Wow Classic becomes popular enough? After they finally implement the final content of Naxxramas, what then?

Do they implement a TBC or WOTLK servers?

Or do they introduce new original content that fits the Classic theme?

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Sorenthaz

My guess is they’ll add BC/WotLK servers. Maybe do something like OSRS where the community votes on additional bits/bobs like putting in the pet/mount collections.

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Loopy

I believe they’re having internal discussions on this themselves. It’s currently a big unknown and will most likely be dependent on the popularity of the game and stability of the population.

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JohnnySilver

A person can get nostalgic for toothache if you wait long enough.

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Utakata

…from the comment below yours, I see what you mean. o.O

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Tamanous

Exactly! Now hopefully there wasn’t over 5 years of private servers developing basically the same game for hundreds of thousands of players creating this Classic reality out of shear demand.

lol Shucks … that would just make your comment sound silly!

(Nostalgic comments are f’ing stupid … if you catch my drift)

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JohnnySilver

No I don’t catch your drift at all.

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NecroFox4

I’m overjoyed that not a single one of the QoL improvements are present.

Yes, the gameplay itself is a huge part of the fun for me. But so is the sense of community that is gained by being forced to interact with, and BE POLITE AND HELPFUL TO, your fellow players, due to the complete and total local of an LFG/LFR system.

It also requires you to make critical decisions on what to keep, what to toss, and what to sell on the AH, in regards to the lack of the ability for players to hoard their loot in cavernous guild vaults.

I could go on, but I believe I can sum it up by saying that WoW Classic is a lot of fun for more reasons than just the core gameplay. It’s as fun as it is, because it is what it is, and, just as important, is is NOT what it is NOT.

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Sorenthaz

Yeah, somewhere along the way MMOs became way too focused on appeasing the anti-social lone wolf players who feel entitled to getting the same gear/etc. as those who raid/etc.

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Jokerchyld

Thats hyperbole at best, in reality MMOs became more solo focused due to time constraints. Gamers (such as myself) who had tons of free time when I was a teenager do not have the same levels of time today (with wife, kids, work, etc) and games catered to that playstyle where we can play for 30 minutes and make some type of meaningful progress. Thinking of logging into EQ (vanilla) and the waiting an hour or so just to get a group to get a pinch of XP isn’t realistic in 2019. The key is the balance between that playstyle and those who want more of the coordinated group game.

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NecroFox4

Sorry, but that’s just not the case. People had multiple jobs and kids and big families in 2004, too. The game didn’t change just to cater to people with less time due to growing up. Hell, the game was BUILT by people with jobs, wives, kids, etc.

The game changed to maximize profits by being “accessible” to the broadest audience possible. The idea was that, if you still wanted to spend hours and hours playing, you could. But if you didn’t have that kind of time, you could pop in for 45 minutes and still get the gear, etc . despite the much smaller investment.

And naturally, this unbalanced the community, resulting in an epic flood of so-called “casuals”, precipitating the erosion of the community I spoke of above.

It was all very well-intentioned. The LFG/LFD/LFR systems, and the cross-realm capabilities, make a lot of sense on paper. But the unintended result was the erosion of a community, and with it, the soul of the game for many players.

Add that to the utter lack of customization (the comparison of the talent systems is night and day!), the loss of identity for all the classes (they all feel the SAME now…), and the incredible ease with which nearly everything can be obtained, and it’s no wonder you’ve had droves of players literally begging for YEARS for a vanilla experience.

And now we’re getting it. And it’s exactly what we wanted. And we love it. All of it.

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Jokerchyld

We are saying the same thing. I cant see maximizing profits as a real reason for the change because every company in the world wants to do that. It’s the function of being in business. From my view WoW wasnt the only game to enact this pattern. Almost all MMOs did this and new ones started like this. Characters being able to perform multiple roles. Level scaling. Scenarios/Delves/single player content was definitely catered to people who wanted to play MMOs but didnt have the time to wait or deal with other people to enjoy it. SWTOR was built on it. GW2 promoted it and ESO matured it.

If people dont play your game because you dont have time, then you enable things to make it easier to get value out of the time you invest you will make more money.

I agree on the lack of customization and the watering down of classes but I’m also aware enough to know that is the current trend.

At my age I dont care how a game develops anymore. The minute it’s not fun for me to play I leave and put my money in another game. So far I am happy with ESO and Everquest. But have a curious eye on WoW classic and dabble in it on launch. Current WoW I’ll check out 8.2 but don’t have high confidence they enough reason for me to enjoy the grind (as I did for 2 years with Legion)

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Leiloni

I agree – having various QoL improvements would change the game and change what Classic is at the core. The game is fun in part because it doesn’t have that stuff.

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Jeff (das_TAKu)

Wish they went the non-lazy way and did TLP servers BUT that being said, I’m glad they are releasing it as close to vanilla as they can.

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Jeff (das_TAKu)

Oh and I agree with some of the people here. I would be all over this if Activision-Blizzard hadn’t been such a scumbag in 2018-19.

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Ashley Bau

Personally prefer what they are doing. If it was a progression server I wouldn’t be interested.

Instead I think a completely different option might appeal to both people who want to lock the game to certain expansions AND people who want to progress after a while.

Offer servers at different expansion levels and allow ‘transfer ups’. That is to say, you have a vanilla server that will always be vanilla and a burning crusade server that will always be burning crusade. If/when you’re done with your time on vanilla (or even if you just want to mix in some other expansion play too) you can make a transfer to the burning crusade server (which could even just be a copy of character data so you can keep your progress should you want to go back).