First impressions: WoW Classic is fun but anachronistic

    
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I’m not really one to follow trends or scamper along the zergeist (a combination of zerg and zeitgiest that I’ve decided perfectly encapsulates the mentality of a certain subset of MMO players). But I saw WoW Classic as an opportunity to provide a unique perspective.

See, World of Warcraft wasn’t my first MMO, and I have to admit when I first picked it up, it didn’t really catch me. I started in a few months before the launch of Burning Crusade, so I have enough Vanilla experience to say that I played, but I don’t remember much. What better perspective than one from a grizzled old MMO veteran who doesn’t have all the nostalgia from vanilla? (All right, there are probably lots of good perspectives, but humor me.)

So I’ve played WoW off and on for years since Burning Crusade, but during all of that time I’ve never played a Warlock. I thought that having no preconceptions about Warlock would give me a pure perspective. When I first started playing back in the day, I played Horde. So this time I rolled a Human — basically trying to do my best to give myself an unbiased starting point for the game.

The quest giver

After doing my Stormwind flyover, I was plopped down in the middle of a field with hundreds of other people. It was amusing, but not particularly surprising to see many people. I’d always expected WoWC to draw huge initial numbers. But what I wasn’t expecting was the lack of quest tracking. I don’t mean the modern day show-me-where- the-objectives-are; I mean like showing me the quest givers on the minimap. As I zoned in directly in front of the first quest giver, I could see that there was a little yellow exclamation point on my screen, but not one on my minimap.

It was jarring. I had expected to not see quest locations or quest objectives or any of that on the minimap or on the zone map. I remember those not being there, but I didn’t remember not having quest givers show up. I’m a natural completionist, so this irked me a bit. I’m used to using those markers to find all the quests to complete. How could I be sure I hadn’t missed a quest before my first adventure out into the world?

Well, I couldn’t. That just wasn’t the way Vanilla worked. So I just took extra time running around the Abbey, checking nooks and crannies with clipping issues to do my best to find all my initial quests. Having satisfied myself that I had found all of the quests (Narrator: He had not, in fact, found all of the quests), I wandered out and away on my first adventure.

What’s mana again?

Combat is still the standard affair I’ve long been used to. I target; I cast shadow bolt. It was a little different in that even as a Warlock, in the early levels my melee dagger attack was actually important because – and this is a weird thought, friends – mana actually mattered. I wasn’t always able to down the kobold before I ran out of mana, and I’d have to stab at him (her? are there female kobolds?) wildly with my dagger.

Mana management is something that’s not a huge part of most modern MMORPGs, but I found running out mana and being forced to stop and drink to be refreshing (ba-dump-ching). I don’t think it necessarily added anything to the gameplay at this point, but it’s what I think of as a pleasant inconvenience. Drinking to regenerate mana makes sense to me and actually adds to my immersion in the game. I enjoy it more because it feels more authentic.

Having gone murderhobo on the required number of kobolds, I ran back to the Abbey to clear out my incredibly tiny inventory and pick up the next set of quests. At that point, I was still using the stock UI, and the quest text speed was driving me nuts. I’m a quick reader, so the very stylistic fade-in with pen-on-parchment noise was endearing but infuriating. I fixed that pretty quick with a handy mod.

Pleasant inconvenience

As I leveled, I was given a quest to find my class trainer, which I had forgotten about. Seeing that I had skills to train (and pay for!) was another one of those moments of “pleasant inconvenience” for me. It makes sense to me that my character would need to learn new techniques from somebody more experienced and that I would have to pay for it. Again, it adds to immersion for me and increases my enjoyment. It was fun to decide which skills to train up first because I didn’t have enough money to train them all. I knew I would get them all eventually, but which one I wanted sooner was an interesting decision to me.

As I continued to play, it was clear that WoWC really did move at a different pace from contemporary MMOs. This wasn’t surprise to me, as it’s one of the things that people tout as a positive to this mode of WoW. At times, it is a positive. I enjoyed a combat gameplay loop was slower and less frantic than retail; the combat was less intense and a little more strategic because of the slower pace. I think the strategery will increase the further up in levels I go, but even at the low levels, I felt as if I had more time to make a decision among a wider range of options.

Unpleasant inconvenience

However, I didn’t enjoy the 3-5 minute runs between quest givers and quest objectives. Bear in mind that I’m absolutely a “stop and smell the roses” kind of guy; I play at my own pace. But the amount of downtime built into questing was really grating. I actually felt anxious at how slowly I was progressing. During the week, I have pretty limited play time and spending so much time just doing nothing but running, seeing the exact same scenery again and again made me feel as if I wasn’t getting good use out of my time. I wanted to be doing something more active than auto-running and reading Reddit on the side.

The quest flow also bothered me. It’s clear, at least to folks who’ve played a lot of MMOs over the course of these last decades, that the quests are explicitly designed to make us run long distances back and forth between the same areas repeatedly. The goal seems to be just to artificially increase the amount of time it takes to complete quests. In my view, travel is sometimes too frantic in WoW retail, but it’s definitely too glacial in WoWC.

Community

WoWC advocates have been proselytizing about their belief that WoWC was going to make MMO players decent people again and undo all the evils of retail and the unspeakable horrors of the LFG tools. At this point, you’ve probably seen the pictures of people queued up to kill a single quest mob and heard the converts arguing how great WoWC is because it was responsible for this. Let me be blunt here: WoWC isn’t some magical cure to what ails the larger MMO community, and the community there is no better or worse than any other gaming community.

Yes, some people have been polite and orderly and willing to line up for a mob kill because there are literally dozens of people waiting for it. But in my gameplay – on a roleplaying server, even! – people also ran up and kill-stole off of me just as often as they “waited” their turn. When someone asked about a quest tracking addon in general chat, others jumped down their throats to tell them to GTFO and go back to retail. Yes we grouped up to kill mobs, but people still didn’t talk in the groups. They’d stay in the group till they got their quest objectives then drop without saying a word.

This is not to say that the WoWC community is bad – just that it’s not any better than any other MMO community. It’s almost as if the community makes the community, not the game. Imagine that!

Folks ’round these parts

I’ve played about 10 hours this week in and around the queues, and my overall first impression is that WoW Classic is exactly what it claims to be: the 2004 version of WoW. For some people, that’s exactly what they want. But for me, it was like visiting one of those old pretend frontier towns in school, where you got to see how people lived before modernity. It’s a fun experience; there’s a novelty to doing things how they used to be done. But it’s static: It never changes, it never grows, it never evolves. That pretend frontier town will always just be that pretend frontier town, caught in time.

Personally, I enjoy change. I like it when things evolve. I would feel stagnant before long. In the end, I think most of us will be glad for the experience of playing WoWC for a time, but ultimately for most modern gamers, it’s an anachronism – a pleasant one, though.

I’ll probably pick it up and play here and there as the mood strikes. But I don’t see it ever becoming a mainline MMO – for me or the industry.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?

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The Dallas Dapifer
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The Dallas Dapifer

Everything you described is exactly as it was then and I have found over the years that when people wax nostalgic of those days of gaming, they cleverly leave out the parts that infuriated us. For me, at least, the fun was never the rule set or the archaic systems, but the friends and adventures I had. Those are the only things I remember from those days and its also the reason I didn’t see any point in going back. Been there, done that, off to the next adventure.

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Anthony Clark

Classic is the game I loved. It’s great to have it back so I can leave the private servers and be back on an official server.

If people prefer the current live retail version it’s great that it’s still there for them. For those of us that prefer the original vision, it’s great that Classic is now here for us.

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traja

It is difficult to describe what the exact details are that make Classic so much more engaging to me than modern MMOs. It really feels exactly as it once did even after some 50 hours now. I can guess what it is but self reflection is always going to be biased.

I would guess that the biggest factor is that the game doesn’t guide you. I still remember most of the quests and I have Questie installed as well, but none of that actually tells me what to do, it just tells me where the thing that I might want to do is. The decision of what quests to do next is entirely up to me.

Also I think that partially it is just the visuals that matter. The world feels more massive because you can’t see to infinity. The horizon fades away at an unrealistically close distance but it really works. That added to the fact that you are running on foot until level 40 makes it all feel truly massive.

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Nascent Visions

Okay Massively, we get it. You’re up to how many pieces from people now who say the same thing : “WoW classic is a good game with some appealing features but it’s so dated and lacks so many QoL features I can’t see myself sticking with it.” You’ve made your point. Fact remains that WoW classic, a game 15 years old, is pulling player numbers that any MMO launching today would kill to have. So here’s an idea for a more interesting piece : what is it about WoW classic that makes it so appealing when there are dozens of better looking, more fully featured MMOs on the market? If it’s an objectively inferior relic of the past, why are so many people choosing to go backwards to a lesser game rather than embrace a new title? Something has gone wrong with modern MMOs and if WoW classic were as clunky and unappealing as it’s being made out to be, people shouldn’t want to go near it. But they are, and in very large numbers. It’s more than just simple nostalgia guys, there’s something here, something fundamental to vanilla WoW that set it apart from its contemporary peers AND its modern competitors. Explore that please.

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Bannex

Dude WoW is a LEGENDARY game. Up until now, the only way to play the original version was on unofficial and later illegal private servers. This game has legions of fans, the current expansion sold very well, legion did very well and while it’s fun to take things at face value some critical thinking and a little time will answer your question.

The current expansion is honestly towards the end of its cycle and its no mystery why they launched classic now because anything they do from here on out to live will be minuscule and they’re reserving the major changes for the next expac.

Classic had a large amount of players but over the years wow gained even more! The reason classic is so popular right now is a combination of bored live players, rabid wow fans that joined the game later and some fans that moved on but want to relive the rose tinted experience of their college and high school years.

Seriously, this is not a mystery and to think that WoW’s continued success stopped at vanilla is exactly what’s wrong with this entire debate.

It is flat out foolish and frankly way to early to claim that vanilla was what everybody wanted all along. Let’s have this conversation in 6 months.

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Sorenthaz

TBH I think a big thing is that modern MMOs streamlined everything to where you don’t need to make conscious choices anymore for building your character and you’ll get rewarded for every 15-30 minutes of gameplay regardless of the effort you put in. It’s to a point where the rewards can feel meaningless when you’re essentially sifting through what gives you bigger numbers. You’re given specific kits to work with and minimal/no choice in customizing it. BiS gear also is either much more straightforward due to being strictly through tokens or whathaveyou, or it can also be mathematically improbable to acquire due to randomized stat bonuses or so on that WoW loves for .

Classic WoW meanwhile stifles rewards significantly to where you’re lucky to get one green item within your first eight or ten levels, let alone a green item with ideal stats. Your first blue item is often a significant upgrade as well. The scarcity basically makes it to where you feel great each time you actually get an item that’s of high perceived value, and enemies/bosses in dungeons/raids/etc all have specific drops giving you incentive to run certain content to get whatever you’re after. Talents also give you room to customize/specialize, and while there are obvious cookie cutter builds there’s plenty of things you can experiment if you want to go against the grain. I.e. I remember a Firestone build for Warlocks back in the day that revolved around having a fast dagger so you could keep proccing Firestone’s burst damage frequently.

The game also forces communities to be built on each server. In modern MMOs you can effectively play solo with little difficulty, PUG a majority of the content with matchmade queues, and often times treat the game as if it’s singleplayer. Server communities don’t matter as much because cross-server technology exists or it’s all on one big megaserver, and guilds basically just become niche social circles where you don’t need more than 20 or so folks in it. And ’cause of how the games function, those guilds can keep to themselves most of the time and so folks are basically able to stay in their own little bubbles while ignoring the rest of the world if they so choose to.

And I guess that’s another thing, is that Classic WoW’s elements and purposeful inconveniences all wrap up into making the game feel like an actual world again.

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Bannex

I am not saying that classic doesn’t have its merits. Im just saying that classic’s newfound success isn’t terribly fascinating… at least yet.

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Jokerchyld

Define fascinating success

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Bannex

Read the post above mine by nascent visions…

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styopa

What’s astonishing is this is now the third author they’ve applied to the subject who says *from the beginning* that they didn’t really like the game they’re writing about. Before they even started.

Is there any other game to which they apply writers that clearly don’t like their subject? I can’t think of one. Hell, they’re still giving SC the benefit of the doubt…

While I appreciate their candor, one has to wonder at that editorial choice… again… and again.

Of course, I’ll be surprised if this post remains. Last time I called them out for it, I was chastised to stop attacking their authors.

Which of course isn’t really the point I’m criticising. I’m not attacking the authors, I’m not even really stacking the editors, I’m genuinely wondering what the hate for Classic is fueled by?

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Bannex

A lot of mmo purists blame wow for the “dumbing down” of the genre and its overall collapse. Most of them don’t even consider WoW an mmo. This site has always despised the game but has to cover it nonetheless because it’s basically the only MMO that is doing newsworthy things and it has a significant playerbase.

However, I don’t think this piece was in poor taste. It reads pretty fairly and tbh I’d rather not read a review of classic from a rabid fanboy. That’s like watching a dirty talking porn between a husband and wife.

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NecrococoPlays

Just an FYI – you can change the quest text in settings, no mod needed.

I enjoyed classic – but I actually went and started the same character on retail to compare the two. I’m enjoying the retail experience, from the eyes of a new player, also. I left the game before MoP, so I lack the burnout and discontent of the Legion and BFA players.

I disabled all of my addons for the experience, and I’m really liking it.

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Mallus

I’ve gotten my hunter to level 30 and a couple other alts to their mid teens but the tedium (lack of many convenience changes that exist in retail, no hunter dead zone, ammo not required, no ammo bag taking up a slot, energy instead of mana, pets that don’t require constant feeding, pets leveling automatically with you and not having to find certain pets just to learn abilities to teach them – I could go on but you get the point) that has already started to kill my desire to login. I was looking forward to Battlegrounds but I doubt I will stay long enough to see them released (phase 3)

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DG

All good points. I couldn’t get out of the starting zone, been there, done that.

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Sray

Rolling back the clock just trades today’s problems for yesterday’s.

Classic was never going to solve any problems with today’s WoW/MMOs in general because those problems are built right into the DNA of WoW’s template: the emphasis on the individual’s acquisition of “stuff” being the purpose behind everything you do; as opposed to that being either the by-product of what you do, or by making the ability to do high end content the reason to acquire “stuff” (aka the opposite of how they do it now: “stuff” is the reward for doing high end content, instead of you get stuff in order to do high end content). When your multiplayer game’s design emphasizes the needs/wants of the individual over the the community, you’ll get a ton of people acting like jerks.

Techno Wizard
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Techno Wizard

WoW Classic is fun but not vanilla. Also layers. lots of layers.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

As we’re deluged by multiple layers of monetization in so many games, it’s nice to play a game without a store button. It’s also nice that Blizzard gave us the game. They didn’t have to. They could have charged for Classic WoW or required an additional subscription. All that is just nice.

I don’t need to buy a Season Pass (whatever the hell that is) and THEN a Battle Pass (again, WTF?) or grind out a hideous amount of coins to get some stuff (just not the best stuff) and then buy yet more for a skin so I don’t look like the dog’s play toy.

Anyway, I never thought it would be perfect. It’s nice that so many people are getting the chance to see what the original WoW was like and may give younger players insight into what the long-time players are talking about.

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Jeremy Barnes

Why did you use an add-on for instant quest text? You can just go to interface -> Display and choose “instant Quest Text…