WoW Factor: Why do people remember classic WoW being so much harder than it actually was?

We're actual size, but it seems much bigger to see.

As much as there’s a moment of schadenfreude in the people compiling lists specifying that no, World of Warcraft: Classic being classic is not a bug, it’s not something that I find particularly interesting beyond the fact of it. People not remembering when certain quality-of-life features were added into the game is just a reality, and while some of them are very much in the “you thought you were getting something you weren’t” category, for the most part it’s not interesting to me.

The fact that people thought Elite enemies weren’t hitting hard enough, though, is legitimately fascinating to me. Not simply because the people thinking that were wrong, of course; that’s true, but it’s not of particular interest in and of itself. What’s really interesting to me is the why of this memory. Why would people remember the game being so much harder than it actually is? Why is there this memory that the game used to be this super-dangerous chain of deaths compared to the reality?

Seeing no red at all, see no rain.First and foremost, I need to separate two related but similar thoughts here. There are people who will look at the damage being done by these Elites and say “I remember these hitting harder” who will then more or less shrug and move on. That’s not the sort of person I’m talking about here. Remembering things inaccurately is no great mystery; we all remember stuff wrong from time to time, and sometimes it’s just thinking that monsters dealt more damage in years past than they actually did. No big deal.

No, what’s interesting and relevant here are the people who remember enemies hitting harder and then insist that the problem must be with the game. That’s where you get people insisting that this must have been harder because they remember it being harder. Why does that happen?

It seems to me that there are two forces at work here. The first is that the past is a closed book, but the second is the more insidious fact that we tend to remember results more than events. Let’s pick those apart.

One of the things I mentioned is that I’m not really interesting in picking apart every instance of memory just going cross-eyed, and that’s definitely an element when it comes to our own slow improvement over the course of the game. Players went from knowing little to nothing about the game at launch to having a clear picture of how the game worked, and so we all know that’s a reason for us remembering “this hit so hard” when we now know how to gear and play properly to avoid that.

But we don’t always remember the process of getting there. Think for a moment about the dumbest decision you remember making in high school. When you think back, do you put yourself in the shoes of yourself at the time? I know I don’t. I put myself back in that memory with my adult thought patterns and more mature observations, and perhaps just as importantly, with full knowledge of how this story ends. It’s really easy for me to look back and see past me as an idiot when I can’t remember learning the lessons and the changes in my thought patterns that made present me better able to evaluate things.

That ties into the other issue, too. I like to think that I’m pretty good at remembering what I did when I was younger. I do my best to understand why I did it. But my memory has conveniently filtered out most of the how because that’s irrelevant information.

At PAX East this year, I was stuck in an overlong line to get into the convention hall, because media is not actually allowed to go in except in the general queue when the hall is opening. This was two or three months ago, obviously. And yet I have no recollection of actually waiting in the line. I know I did, I know I was annoyed, I know that I found myself muttering that it was nonsense… but the actual temporal experience faded as soon as it was over.

For that matter, the year before featured some of the worst traffic I’ve ever hit heading up to Boston. Again, the memories have completely faded from my mind; it’s as if they never happened. What stuck in my mind was “driving was annoying” and so I planned ahead a bit more this year. I remember the results, not the events themselves.

The stars are over Thunder Bluff-over.

So let’s take a step back to World of Warcraft again. In order to form parties to take on dungeons, you had to search for people, whisper back and forth, and talk about where you were and when you would be arriving at the dungeon entrance. That’s already a lot more talking than you have to do for just entering a queue… and yes, I do think it can cloud memories because it’s easy to remember “spent time talking” and not what was actually discussed.

Similarly, it’s really easy to remember the fact that dungeons took longer to get into, were more inconvenient to do, had more trash lining the halls and less guidance, were being run by more inexperienced people… but have that all rush into a melange of “it was harder” in your memory. Why would you remember each of those pieces individually unless, like, you’re some kind of high-functioning prodigy who actually collects this stuff in your memory in lieu of actual important information? Ain’t nobody got time for that.

And let’s face it: Human beings can be absolute garbage at dealing with the idea that we might be wrong in our memories. There’s an entire website devoted to The Mandela Effect, in which people find it easier to believe that they have somehow slipped into a parallel universe than accepting that maybe their memories are just not quite right. That sounds more plausible to some people than accepting that “Berenstain” was always spelled that way, but you mostly heard it spoken and didn’t really internalize the spelling.

So what happens when those memories of things being more inconvenient and harder to do in WoW Classic collide with the reality? Well, you’ve seen it. The insistence comes in that no, the damage is wrong, it used to be higher. Other players double down and insist that Blizzard is somehow not giving us an actual Classic experience, that it’s been dumbed down or it’s all based on patch 1.12 or anything other than their memories might be wrong.

I don’t take this as some source of malicious glee, obviously. If you’ll recall my own written impression of Classic, it was that the game’s mechanics ultimately shine through in a number of ways to provide a better play experience than the current live version of the game. But a lot of the “challenge” was about coordinating people for mechanically simple raids, or just having fewer gearing options, or scouring for quests because they thinned out a lot in the higher levels… you get the idea.

Put another way, if your reason for wanting WoW Classic was an insistence that the modern game is “too easy,” you kind of need the classic game to be a lot harder. And the reality is… well, it’s not. Sorry, friend.

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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The game was marketed as being casual-friendly on the box. It was far easier to play and master than the established MMOs of that time. Even EverQuest had more difficult raids than World of Warcraft vanilla.

What was difficult, and remains difficult, is organizing and motivating a 40-person team for long seasons of weekly play. What’s difficult is the logistics of gearing everyone (Plus resist gear!) and the endless need to farm materials for the next raid.

And when the raid is over, nobody’s going to stick around to work with the healers and tanks who are stuck in sub-optimal specs for farming.

As far as the gameplay goes, people were 3-manning Onyxia by the end of Vanilla. Molten Core was a boring slog with no more than 3 mechanics per fight, and BWL was mostly a gear check.


Maybe they’re remembering the difficulty of trying to wrangle 39 other people to be ready for a pull 40 minutes after the posted start date of MC and the 15 that need to go afk for a smoke/drink/bathroom/dog/dinner after 2 trash mobs.

I leveled a resto druid at launch. it wasn’t difficult, I more or less couldn’t die, but it took a decade to kill anything.


Not one of you mention, technology LAG.

The lag of the network, the lag of the game engine, and the lag of the computer all at 800×600 resolution

Now we play it at 4k buttery smooth with a more advanced network code and engine (smoother) as its based off the modern framework.

Its easy to see once you have played classic modern version. the milliseconds count in a game.

you cannot cast that yet!


Very few people remember 1.12 exactly. Those who played Wow at release (like me) and all the way through to 1.12, played a very different game than 1.12 for the majority of their play time. 1.12 was a short period of Wow’s history.

I imagine a lot of people are vocalizing their opinion about this too who have little or no real experience with that exact patch and time line.


I think to a big part it is many connect time consuming with hard on their mind. So they remember they had a -less than good- time because things too long and after all these years they expect everything hard. Either way I think while many of us are just curious(me included) classic will get a number of loyal players


WoW Classic isn’t hard, it’s time consuming. There’s no mystery in WoW Classic because it’s not our first MMO anymore. We know how to gear, we know what stats we need, we understand when and why we should be using various forms of CC abilities.

I can’t wait until people get to Molten Core and realizes that all the bosses in MC combined have fewer mechanics than a single raid boss from any raid made in the last 10 years. It’s going to be very amusing to see how many people can’t clear Rag because they gave all the gear to their DPS instead of their tank when DPS don’t need gear, the only thing that matters is tank survival.


“What do you mean you can solo level?”

Those were the first words out of my mouth when i heard about WoW for the first time. I thought it was a joke at the time. MMORPG’s aren’t single players games, i said!

None of my friends took it seriously and we constantly ragged on it for being so casual and easy compared to what we were playing at the time. I personally didn’t even try it until the final patch of Pandaria for the first time. I think that was around 5.4?

It’s kind of hilarious and a bit sad that i’m willing to take the game i made fun of for years as a return to a more difficult player dependant style of play. Baby steps i suppose.

Fenrir Wolf

What made it difficult for me was the tricky wall-walking. Trying to get to ludicrous places and… sometimes falling, sometimes dying.

Sitting on top of the Caverns of Time entrance as a level 5 character, past the ?? mobs, waving at the rather confused level 40s passing by? That’s what WoW was all about. Well, that and seeing all of the vividly strange, incomplete places.

Of course, you can’t wall-walk in Nu Classic.

Very much #NotMyClassic, then.

My classic looks pretty much exactly like a 1.8 VMaNGOS build. Which I still hop onto every now and then for the wall-walking nostalgia. I mean, aside from making add-ons, what else do you even do in WoW?

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Lost in all of this seems to be the collective memory that when WoW actually came out, in 2004, it was widely reviled as disgustingly easy and casual friendly compared to the other “hardcore” games it displaced.

Over the decade plus since, as the game changed, there was this legend built up about it, promoted echoed by those who only played it for a while and then left, never to return, that somehow in the good old days it was so much harder than this crappy “casual” game that you wimpy kids play now. Implicit in that, is this trope that the game is worse because the players are worse; that the game was harder “back then” because the players were tougher.

Really what we’re seeing proven in the starkest way is that Brack was right. What people thought they wanted and the thing that they literally were asking for were two very different things. They wanted, and some still want, something that never was. And what they were asking to get back — what they’re actually getting now — is not at all what they thought it was. They thought they did, but they didn’t. And they don’t. At all.

That’s not to say Classic isn’t awesome. It is. It will be. It will be wildly successful, and one of the best things that has happened to MMOs as a whole in a very long time. And its success will rub off and spin off into lots of other good things over time, as people see just how well it does.

Loads and loads of people are going to love the hell out of it. But for a certain very bitter and vocal contingent, it’s going to be not at all what they thought. And that is not going to go down well.

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I was watching Asmongold play the beta, and he said it was harder than he remembered.

But I guess he meant it’s harder than WoW is now.

Memory is a funny thing, and 15 years or whatever later memory fades a bit.

Bruno Brito

I was watching Asmongold play the beta, and he said it was harder than he remembered.

Considering how he plays, i believe him.