It’s been a strange week. No – it’s been a strange year in MMO gaming, all things considered. As I’m going through old Lord of the Rings Online zones thanks to a progression server, enjoying the resurrection of City of Heroes, and as of this past Tuesday, playing a version of World of Warcraft that hasn’t been seen since very early 2007. We’ve all collectively entered a time machine and shot back to the past to indulge in some serious nostalgia gaming while the MMO industry goes through this puberty phase in preparation for a new era.
There are a lot of eyeballs on WoW Classic and in it as well. For me, it’s sorting out how much of returning to this game is transitory nostalgia that will lift in a few weeks like the morning fog and how much is actually still fun to play in its own right. While I can already tell that I will continue to prefer retail World of Warcraft as my WoW of choice, I’ve observed and experienced several things that have reminded me of the joys and struggles of this MMO’s past.
As such, I’m going to make a list for you today: ten weird things I’m relearning about the old game with WoW Classic. It’ll involve a lot of navel gazing, so be warned!
1. The graphics kind of suck
I think one of the best things that Blizzard’s art team ever did for World of Warcraft was hew to a very stylized look for the game (that flowed out of the RTS series), which certainly helped the game have a visual staying power. Yet Blizzard’s certainly been upping the polygon count and other graphical tricks over the years, and jumping back in time to see the sharp edges of everything, the old character models, and the less expressive world was rather jarring. I can still lose myself in it, yes, but it makes me so grateful that we have a better-looking title now in 2019 than we did back in 2004.
2. The one thing I miss the most from modern WoW? Quest directions.
I’ve seen a lot of chatter about the old school design of WoW Classic and how that’s made people pay attention and not take advancement for granted. But the one thing I am struggling with the most in this regard is the sheer lack of quest prompts. Without symbols on the map or minimap showing where quests are, where you go, and a quest tracker itself, going through the core content of actually questing is an exercise in constantly opening up the journal to reference it. That’s cute for about three minutes, but I couldn’t stand it past that point and had to install the Questie mod to make it somewhat playable.
3. The one thing I missed the most from vanilla? A larger sense of world.
It’s hard not to feel very, very small when you’re playing Classic. You run everywhere; there are no mounts, at least not until 40, and just forget about flying. The zone — the area — you’re in is your entire world at any given time, and you are forced to absorb it and immerse yourself in it. I love how this makes everything feel so large and even dangerous around me, even while it’s forced me to slow down.
4. I’ve taken travel for granted
Oh dearie me, I really have. When you jump into Classic, the only tool you have to get somewhere really fast is either (a) a hearthstone with an hour-long cooldown or (b) dying to get sent back to a graveyard somewhere. Zepplins, ships, and the very limited flight points offer faster travel as well. That’s it. I’ve seriously contemplated rerolling as a Shaman just to get that faster hearth cooldown because this is so bad. Then again, everyone else is in the same boat, so to speak, so it makes it bearable.
5. The early game is full of small but significant points of progress
I had to laugh that a grey piece of level 5 gear actually ended up being an upgrade for my chest slot — and I kept wearing it for the next seven levels because Classic is nothing if not extremely stingy on loot (more on that in a bit). But when I did get that six-slot bag or that rare armor upgrade or my very first green item, it was more exciting than the last 20 times I got a purple item in Battle for Azeroth. And I actually care about weapon skill, which actually sent me on a sea crossing journey early on to get my staff training just so my Warlock could rock a long stick instead of a knife.
6. How did anyone get anything usable?
I envision WoW Classic as a miser who has the tightest grip possible over its wealth. It begrudgingly gives up a few copper or a weapon you can’t use every now and then, but for the most part I wasn’t getting anything useful from quest rewards or drops. A guildie actually helped me out by crafting a series of bags for me because I was so inventory starved, and when it came to my gear, I was vastly more concerned about a point or two of extra armor over how I actually looked wearing this all.
7. Talent trees are awesomesauce!
I’m allowed to use the term “awesomesauce” because 2004 is here again and that’s just how we rock it. Seriously, Blizzard was a fool to abandon talent trees because the second I dinged 10 and got my first point, I felt like a kid in a candy store agonizing over how I was going to spend it. If I could port one thing from Classic to Retail, this would be it. Bring back talent trees!
8. Running away is a perfectly valid strategy that doesn’t always work
At one point I found an underwater cave with a chest tucked inside. Unfortunately, it was surrounded by Murloc oracles who had the longest aggro range I’ve ever seen. Almost immediately I had four of them on my tail, and I let all pretense of bravery evaporate as I tried to swim away. Of course, this is Classic, and getting away is a 50/50 proposition at the best of times, so I died.
I’ve died many, many times.
9. I’m glad this pre-Cataclysm version of the world is being preserved
Even if Classic doesn’t end up being hugely successful in the long run, I’m gratified to see that Blizzard is helping with video game preservation by bringing back the original look of the world. I’ve really missed seeing things like old Brill and unbroken Barrens and the much smaller version of Stormwind. They might not mean much to people who weren’t there for the original, but to me, at least, it’s like someone sprucing back up your childhood home and keeping it open in case you want to go back and think upon the old days.
10. When you’re not interested in the endgame offered, you make your own fun
To be honest, I hated the vanilla endgame of high-level dungeons and raiding (I thought they were pretty boring back in 2006) and have no interest in doing any of that when I hit 60. So what do you do when the game doesn’t offer you a lot of alternatives? You forge your own path and make your own goals. For me, it’s leveling Engineering up to the cap and making some fun toys for play. If a progression server or a transfer isn’t announced after that, I may either reroll or quit, but at least I’ll have a fun journey for a while!