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.
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.
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.
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.