WoW Factor: Crazy speculation on turning back the clock for World of Warcraft

Whew. All right.

There’s a game I like to play – wait, no, that’s a lie. There’s a game I do play called “Oh, I Made Myself Sad.” It consists of a very simple play mechanic. First, I think of something that I would really like to be true, either a textually supported plot twist or a sudden design swerve or a surprise revelation. Sometimes it’s just coming up with an anime premise that sounds right. Then I remind myself that none of it is real and oh, I made myself sad.

My latest round of the game involves World of Warcraft, so now you can play along at home.

As I’ve mentioned a few times now, part of me wonders how much of the stuff going down in WoW Classic ties back into the design team wanting to see if the enthusiasm is there just for the old systems alone. Then I got thinking about Bree’s comment about wanting not Classic but the energy of the game from that period, and that got me thinking about an expansion in which both current live characters and Classic characters can move forward… at the cost of a whole lot of failure along the way.

See into the future.

See, remember how I’ve also said that there’s no fixing this story? There really isn’t. But years of comic books have taught me that people will forgive a certain amount of everything going off the rails if the fans are told immediately afterward that none of this matters. And it would, at least, be a different ending from Mists of Pandaria if we get to the final raid, beat the crap out of Sylvanas, and then learn… it doesn’t actually matter, we’re still screwed.

Not in the sense that her plan still comes together, mind you. We stopped her. But the problem is that the damage was still done along the way. Within about five years or so, Azeroth is going to burst free under the control of the Old Gods, and everything is screwed. The time to fix all of this was years ago.

This, then, was the End Time foreseen by Nozdormu. The damage is done. The past can’t be changed.

Except the past can totally be changed because the Bronze Dragonflight still exists. This, then, was the mission that the Infinite Dragonflight initially set out on… but the Infinite Dragonflight used the power of the Old Gods and became corrupted by them, leading to their mad service in the name of the Old Gods and the Hour of Twilight. Meanwhile, in our timeline we have the Heart of Azeroth, enough power to provide a path backwards, though it tears us down and weakens us, to arrive back in time at the steps of the Dark Portal… just as Illidan is about to rip this open again.

Yes, that’s where we’re ending up. We’re rolling the clock back to just before the Burning Crusade, but instead of going back to do that again we’re setting right into creating a divergent timeline. This time, our goal is to start by cutting off the Old Gods before they can take root by hunting down Deathwing before the Shattering. This coincides with an end to the faction divide; now that we’re all basically taking part in a time split, the faction lines that the rest of the world participates in don’t matter as much to players.

Of course, that doesn’t mean factions go away; it just means that so long as War Mode is off, you’re neutral to other players and can visit and even take quests outside of the major cities. PvP remains as it is, because to the majority of the Alliance or Horde, you’re still part of the Alliance or Horde. Queueing up for a battleground means you’re taking part in what residents at the time see as a completely still-present cold war.

Meanwhile, you can bring your Classic character forward into the expansion (it’s a one-way trip) and, essentially, do a quest line explaining that you’re joining this new group of adventurers from a broken future. It is, functionally, a new expansion to the classic game, based on the lessons that were learned for Wrath carried forward. Meaning that you’re back to a level cap of 70 (solving that issue) but with worldwide level scaling, back to talent points but with the best of both worlds in class design, and no longer stinging quite the same from the loss of systems that were abandoned.

Everything old &c

Obviously the talent trees will look very different from the ones Classic has; the core philosophy here should be that while the game is technically downgrading by bringing players from 120 to 60, nothing is actually lost in that compression. If anything, things are gained. So if any of the current abilities absolutely need to be moved into talent trees, they should be among the absolute first options you pick up. We could also see something else neat done with talent trees, but at this point we’re already deep into the woods of things that are never going to happen, so let’s leave that speculation alone.

Since we’re going back in time, we also go back to having fewer difficulty options for content. Everything has precisely two modes, Normal and Heroic. Normal is accessed via the group finder, Heroic is not; Normal Dungeons scale up to level, all forms of raids and Heroic Dungeons are at the level cap only. Heroic dungeons take over the current keystone system as dungeon progression, Heroic raids are the progression raiding content, but all dungeons are accessible in normal mode as they get added.

I’ve already put forth a bunch of different systems that the game could use to make gearing less of a goddamn nightmare, for the record. Use one and go with it, give Heroic players about three months of having the best gear and then let normal players upgrade to catch up.

Where will we actually go for the expansion? There are lots of options for new regions to explore, including just re-using the Cataclysm areas, but my inherent whim is to actually really wildly upset things and have the expansion continent be the Broken Isles. Yes, a redesigned version of where we were just one expansion ago… but in totally different context, with different troubles, and following very different quest lines. In other words, it doubles down on the idea that this is a very different experience, top to bottom.

And if the timeline seems wonky around the world now? Well, of course it does.

Obviously, this is almost certainly not what we’re going to get. I sincerely doubt that we’ll get much more in the way of nods to what people are looking back toward with yearning beyond the vague notion that yes, we really do like talent trees, and no, the current state of the game is a mess. I strongly expect that there’s not even consideration of merging the options for live and Classic. It’s a messy, weird, strange idea from top to bottom.

But it sounds cool to me, so it was a banner round of Oh, I Made Myself Sad. And if you share my particular love of weird extended fixes, now you’re in the same boat.

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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Bruno Brito

There’s a game I do play called “Oh, I Made Myself Sad.” It consists of a very simple play mechanic. First, I think of something that I would really like to be true, either a textually supported plot twist or a sudden design swerve or a surprise revelation. Sometimes it’s just coming up with an anime premise that sounds right. Then I remind myself that none of it is real and oh, I made myself sad.

Why do you do this to yourself?

Hydlide S

Same. I started to make my own games so I could do whatever the hell I want. :)


I suggested something like this as an off shoot of classic months ago. Never happen sadly.

Dug From The Earth

The problem is no one agrees on what part of WoW caused it to reach the state of failure its in now

Was it the mechanics changing?
Was it the story?
Was it the dumbing down of systems?
Was it making the game more solo friendly?
Was it making the game less challenging for raiders?
Was it the management?
Was it the players?
Was it the content?

The easy route is to say “all of it”, but the truth of the matter is that no one is going to agree on it 100%. Everyone has their belief and reason for what went wrong with WoW for them.

Right now, the closest we can get to agreeing, is the compromise that Vanilla is the LEAST offensive state of the game for those who feel that current WoW is bad.

Im sure there are other groups too… the BCers, the WoTLKers, etc… but the Vanilla group seems to be the majority at the moment.

In a perfect world, there would be multiple forms of the game that each went on in their own direction to appease that group of players.

But then, the game would have to be called “World of Burgerking”


I think it is pretty simple. The community aspects of the game have been very marginalized over the years with all the systems that were supposed to increase accessibility.

I think it’s pretty simple. Classic (Vanilla) WoW is a MMO and modern WoW is not.
Retail WoW has way too much Action RPG influence now and I think that is why so many MMO players hate it. That and retail WoW is extremely on rails themepark with weak character progression.

Dug From The Earth

Yup, and your opinion fits into one of many different reasons out there why people think its not good.

It doesnt match MY reasons, per say, but the collective whole agrees that the current version is not good, regardless of if our “why doesnt it” views dont match.


In a perfect world, there would be multiple forms of the game that each went on in their own direction to appease that group of players.

You mentioned the game needs to try to appease multiple demographics.

I think if anything this is probably the game’s primary problem. It is an amalgamation of many different games at this point with a sprinkle of the dead husk of the original design in there.

Their attempt to try to cater to a mass audience has just made for a boring game.

This design has pushed the game into a really weird spot where only a fragment of the player base really enjoys it anymore. Basically the ultra casuals that enjoy just collecting things the M+ crowd , Mythic Raiders and Hardcore PVPers.

I think many of the casual MMO players in the middle that enjoyed crafting, a more challenging leveling process and casual guild raiding have been completely pushed out of the game due to the systems they introduced over the years.

That and the story and the over all lore is just god awful. I was never really impressed with WoW lore, but the last 3 expansions feels like they are really phoning it in. Feels like GoT season 8 levels of fail :P

Danny Smith

Brain Drain and developers taking ideas from mobage rather than rpg’s seems to sum up Battle for Azeroth pretty simply. Its MMORPG through the lens of a gacha gear structure by self professed ‘primarily mobile gaming’ developers that seem befuddle their audience don’t get as excited at rolling to chase that SSS+ waifuboat equivalent while holding stat bonuses hostage behind a energy meter you build up. Its like these people don’t even have phones!


Actually, I think it would be better to move forward from Classic rather than move backward from live. Minor alterations through WotLK, but nothing major. Remember WotLK was the high point of WoW and the vast majority of players loved it.

After WotLK, well there is where things can get divergent as you describe. But please, no damned level scaling; that stuff is for the schitz. And no LFG/LFR or Cross Server; it destroys community.

I think you need to maintain your Classic 1-60 server(s) and your Classic through WotLK servers. Then, a new set of servers for divergent timelines post WotLK. Allow players to transfer copies of their characters to Classic WotLK and Divergent servers (but not back the other way).

I would probably never play any MMO other than WoW ever again. And,yes I would pay for those divergent expansions. :)


TBH WotLK wasn’t perfect either. It’s where they started breaking the game down into a formula, making most professions diminish in their usefulness and dungeons became facerolly (to the point where people complained in Cata when they tried to make them challenging again). It was also where the daily reputation grind became the main endgame activity outside of running dungeons/raids and working up professions. Also they killed two Vanilla raids to reboot/update them for WotLK (Naxxramas and later Onyxia for an anniversary event).

In general WotLK is where the game started appealing harder to the casual masses and they started doling out quite a bit of instant gratification with things like achievements which now told you what was and wasn’t worth doing. It was the start of the slippery slope Blizzard started going down, essentially putting in the building blocks that Cataclysm and beyond would go on to further push.


Nothing is perfect,of course. And you are certainly correct in saying that the end of WotLK is where they started to walk away from the successful design that made WoW the greatest MMO of the decade. Do I wish they had never started down the LFG path? For sure. But making the raids a little more accessible was a good step; there were certain things (such as 40 mans) that just were not working for the vast majority of players.

There was a point in WotLK that they could have stopped the changes, made the next expansion as a true expansion of WotLK. Things would have been so much more different than they are today.

And, I really loved the reworked Naxx! Had the most fun in there that I have ever had. It was a blast.


Good times.


I honestly think the automated queuing tools they added late Wrath was the main reason this game starting losing it’s luster. I was so sad when they added LFR too, I’ve never seen such a poorly thought out system added to a MMO. Even it’s own creator lamented it’s creation.

IronSalamander8 .

I miss the old talent trees. I like getting stuff every level, even things like +1% more healing that become +5% in 5 picks. Honestly I don’t want classic but I don’t want the current game either. I think a lot of this stuff could really help.

I too am sick of the faction war. I prefer horde and love my goblins and trolls, but it’s past time for this story-wise at least.

Rick Mills

I love your imagination… Just sayin.

Kickstarter Donor

I would be so down for this, especially the end of the stupid, pointless, unnecessary, narratively stupid to high hell faction war.

I never actually thought about this, having parallel timelines where we functionally get a “new” version of WoW that’s still starting from the same point but takes a different path forward. I think it would be a great way for them to return to the start with all the lessons they’ve learned over the years and improve it from the get-go.

Also, as you mentioned, they can re-use the shit out of existing zones and assets so it’s hardly as if they’re recreating everything from scatch.

I’d totally play this version of WoW, because the current version holds little appeal to me. Damnit if they’re not making it hard for me to stay away from classic, though.

Jaymes Buckman

Though I definitely don’t want to return to classic mechanics, I can accept that it holds appeal for others. But I’ll never understand the lust people carry for classic talent trees. There was never this preponderance of meaningful options in comparison to the current system, which is basically a sundae bar. Everyone gets a scoop of ice cream and gets to put a bunch of toppings on it. Classic version was a pea bowl bar. Everyone gets a bowl, and you get to take one pea at a time from identical pea piles and put it in your bowl. And that’s interspersed with a number of actual toppings that’s right around the modern version. But viable choices were almost always fewer.

Danny Smith

They can’t keep just saying “n-no THIS is the real world ending villain, swer on me mum this time the threat is real!”. Apocalypse fatigue set in for WoW after we killed Deathwing as some tentacular homunculus rising up out of the Maelstrom. To say nothing of Azshara and the last Old God being the only rts lore left to exhaust and the playerbase at large seeming to give no shits about Goldens “void lord” OC’s that sound like villains from one of the modern 3D Sonic games.

Honestly you hear “X game can be saved if they just ARR it” but they have been seeding Murozond and “end times worse than these” for like 7 or 8 years now. You could totally reset the clock, go back to vanilla and have people think “okay if we deal with this now knowing what we know the day is saved forever right?” and only end up doing something far worse. Like dealing with Deathwing before he can shatter the world means we never deal with the Sha and their influence on people that were still going to start a snowball effect with the Mantid waking up wether the alliance and horde showed up or not. So a Sha empowered Mantid swarm that completely desiccates pandaria and spreads beyond it is just one easy example of dealing with something in the past in a different way can totally change entire cultures by pure accident.


Honestly i would LOVE this game and i wish they would do it.

That sajd i do feel classic is an experiment in game design to see if it really does gather more steam the live. Which i suspect it will abd i think it will impact a future expansion(the next one might be too close OR they are already nringing back older systems and this was a way to get to know them better and make extra money)

Either way i really do hope classic rubs off on live