It’s far too early to say that World of Warcraft: Classic will get more updates beyond the planned phases of vanilla content. It could be that the player population shrinks pretty darn quickly, making it worth keeping around as an archived museum but not worth further development. It could be that the player population stays stable but not great. And it could be that there’s an unexpected surge of players happy to enjoy the game’s more entertaining mechanics regardless of its limitations.
Here’s the thing. It might seem obvious to assume that any further updates will just be to bring in the expansions… but by that point you don’t really have Classic any longer. So I wanted to go for a different thought experiment. How could Blizzard actually update, improve, and advance Classic while keeping it away from The Burning Crusade?
My rules were pretty simple. No increases to the level cap are allowed, no later-expansion features are allowed, no new landmasses are allowed, and no flying. In other words, any subsequent alterations have to keep all of that in place. I would also stress that any of these updates should be differentiated from “authentic” Classic, ideally with separate servers to keep the vintage 1.12 running for those who want to tour the museum. And yet I found that I still had plenty of ideas for adding things…
1. New race models
This one wouldn’t really take much; it could easily be a toggle in the options switch for anyone who wants the new models instead of the older ones. It’s also barely even a change to the game, but it would count as one for these purposes, because it’s something that was not in the original version of WoW that Classic emulates.
2. The later races
Well, yeah, this one sure is a change. It’s a pretty big one, even; Draenei were only hinted at in the base game, Blood Elves were barely seen, and stuff like Worgen, Void Elves, and Nightborne would require some writing around. I don’t think that inherently breaks the flow of the game, though. I think there’s space to add these into the game of 1-60 with just a few quests and some alteration to include them, even if there are elements that will naturally feel a little bit off.
If that seems off, consider also that of all the extant races and allied races, the only ones that people wouldn’t know of in any capacity by vanilla are… Nightborne, Void Elves, and Lightforged. Heck, even the last one is questionable. So I don’t feel that it’s too much of an ask to include the races, and since there’s no way to include the existing unlock requirements, people who want to play a Dark Iron without having to jump through reputation hoops will be able to do so.
Fun fact, I debated where to put this one, but then I decided to put it early because I figured everyone who knows my writing knows that this is the sort of thing I’d put in as a wished feature. Why not get it out of the way early, right?
Housing was something that was long in the cards for WoW on launch; there are statements as far back as 2004 indicating that the studio still planned to do it. It feels like there was just an ongoing pattern of people finding other things to do and excuses not to, but hey, now you’ve got nothing but time and no raid tiers to add. Let’s roll this out and get it working. Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort. You have both.
4. Meeting stone attunement
The meeting stone feature was something that WoW never really quite rolled out right. They made for a good way of getting a party together in theory, but in practice they tended to be underused simply because you had to hike to the dungeon and then park there for an extended period of time.
Thus, I’m just going to blatantly steal a feature from elsewhere and say that you now will have stone attunement. You have to find the actual stone first, but once you’ve attuned to it you can use the meeting stone to find your group from wherever, with the added bonus of setting a separate hearthstone-style cooldown to the stone. And yes, the summoning feature should still be functional for meeting stones.
Of course, you could also steal elements of The Burning Crusade’s dungeon queue system, which definitely helped matters, but I did say no expansion features, right?
5. Azshara Crater
Yes, I’m going to keep asking for this until it gets opened. I want me some Azshara Crater. The map is mostly done, just modify it! Work with what’s there!
6. Revised/expanded quests
Up to this point, none of the things I’m asking for really change the game all that much. Sure, they might alter some of the mechanics a bit, but the actual moment-to-moment questing will still be the same as Classic. But there’s absolutely nothing saying that we can’t get more quests added to the game, the option to explore areas otherwise left unexplored, and so forth.
Itemization for a lot of quest rewards was still a mess for a very long time, and that could easily be addressed by revising or improving some existing quests. There’s also space to add more quests all along the path. Questing thins out a lot in the base game post-40, but more quests could be added in to explore new storylines or expand what’s already in the game.
Heck, how many classic stories just ended with no firm resolution? You could add that resolution. You could add new quests in unused regions. You could add lots of things. Even…
7. More paths to equipment
Heroic dungeons and such are very firmly expansion features and will not be added. But why not add more equipment to reputations? Why not add a different set of mechanics for getting equipment unlocked and rewarded? Why not tinker with alternative reward systems that traffic on the way the game was (I’m firmly in favor of pinching Star Trek Online’s reputation projects, for instance)? There’s plenty of ways to take the much more leveling-based and open game and give players more to do at the top end.
8. Hero classes
“Wait, didn’t you say no later expansion features?” I did! But who said that this is about later expansion features? Because while “Hero class” was bandied about for a long time, it wasn’t until Wrath of the Lich King that we actually found out what that meant… and it’s hardly the only possible meaning for that term.
Myself and a lot of other people speculated that “Hero classes” would be more akin to Prestige classes from D&D, something you unlock on top of your existing class for additional abilities. It’s not hard to see how that would work; add an additional talent tree or two for your Hero class, offering some basic benefits in ability and passive forms, and so forth. It’d be a different way to advance your character and something new to unlock.
9. Improved talent trees
The pass that we got in 1.12 was not the last pass that could be taken for WoW’s talent trees. Heck, that was one of the magical things about patches when you knew that several of them would include rewritten talents for your job of choice. Why not give them another brush-over now?
10. A new take on underused zones
I don’t know what the designers originally intended to do with Deadwind Pass, or the Alterac Mountains, or… look, I wrote a couple of columns on underused zones, you can check back to see that. But there’s nothing saying that you can’t do more with them now. Heck, this could just as easily tie into expanded and improved zones; flesh out quests, flesh out zones, everyone wins. There’s material for miles in the game as it stood, space for tons of different quests.
Hey, there’s no reason we can’t get original Hyjal. Or get zones added in places like Gilneas, or a split to explore more of Tirisfal, or… you know, more places within the existing landmasses. I said no new landmasses, after all.
Some of this stuff might not delight you conceptually, but that’s part of the fun. There are places for Classic to go, new places, and they’re new places that offer more adventure even without undoing the limitations of the base game. And that’s without putting out a new expansion at all.