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.
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.
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.
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.