The gaming world is abuzz with excitement over World of Warcraft Classic. Players around the world are gushing with nostalgia over this trip back in time. I, however, have never held a World of Warcraft subscription until last week, and now I’m taking my first steps in pristine, vanilla Azeroth.
How and why did I end up here? I am a victim of peer pressure, nearly 15 years too late.
At the beginning of 2005, almost all of my friends were playing RuneScape with me. By the end of the year, they had basically all left for World of Warcraft, but I stayed behind. I stayed in RuneScape mostly because its subscription was cheaper, but also because, at that point in my life, I preferred the sandbox elements of that game to the dungeon- and raid-centric World of Warcraft.
Since then, I’ve played just about every MMO except WoW, but I’ve also never gotten to play with all of my friends in one game again. In fact, I’m lucky when I know one or two people from real life regularly playing any MMO I play. Now it’s 2019, World of Warcraft Classic is launching, and most of them are returning for it. I’ve really missed the experience of playing games with them, so this time I have decided to join them.
For some reason, I wanted to play on launch night. Intellectually, I knew this was going to be a bad experience and a terrible first impression. The massacring of kobolds, wolves, and anything else required for a quest is well documented. I got in early and I still sat in a queue for over an hour, and when I finally did get in and made a character, I had to attempt to log in about 30 times due to the “World server is unavailable” error, while the servers were clearly up because I was talking on voice chat with my friends who were already logged in.
Everything would be much more convenient if I just waited a few days or weeks. After all, the game isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and I’m not a rush-to-endgame person in any MMO. And yet there’s something intoxicating about being there for the day one rush. Even though I have zero nostalgia for this game, it’s fun simply being around those who do, reading Goldshire zone chat as players rave about how they’ve missed this experience. Competing for spawns is less than ideal, but there’s something special about being a part of a mass of hundreds of players all experiencing this together in real time.
It’s strange rolling a character in a game that I have never played, and yet having a really good idea of how each class plays. I’ve heard so much over the years from ex-WoW players about how Class X from this game is just a clone of Class Y from WoW, or how much better the healing mechanics of such-and-such from WoW work than the healers in this game, that I already had a pretty good idea of which ones I wanted to play.
I wanted to experience both sides of the legendary conflict between the Horde and the Alliance, so I rolled a Human Paladin and a Troll Shaman. One facet of Vanilla that I was glad to see that Blizzard did not carry over was the restriction to one faction per server (on PvE servers, at least). I normally like support/tank hybrid classes (which you’ve probably already guessed since I picked two of them), but I found the lowbie Paladin experience extremely disappointing.
By the end of the first night, my Pally was level 6 (in my defense, it was slow going the first night due to the sheer number of players competing for kills), I had a variety of buffs, a heal that took so long to cast it wasn’t useful for solo play, a bubble that prevents incoming or outgoing damage, and one cooldown that consumes one of my self-buffs for damage. Apart from that, I was stuck autoattacking.
And it doesn’t get a whole lot better from there. I could see that, even in a group, this was going to be a very boring leveling experience compared to progression in some other MMORPGs. I can only do so many buffs. Give me something to do while I wait for them to expire. It just seems like a poor design choice, given every advance made along the way since original WoW released (or even given WoW’s other classes!). I know that Paladin, at least early on, isn’t much of a DPS class, but I expected to have at least some damaging abilities, but apparently not – and this is something I’ve seen stressed in guides too, that vanilla Paladins are slow levelers that do better with a buddy. I ended up ditching my Human Paladin in favor of a Gnome Mage for my Alliance character.
The Shaman was a lot more fun from the start. It plays a lot more like a caster with some support abilities. The Shaman’s totem mechanic is one of the few things from WoW that hasn’t been cloned a million times, and I felt more useful to my group a lot earlier than with the Paladin. This is the kind of class I can see myself leveling to cap. I also really enjoy Troll animations for some reason. They’re so lanky and awkward, but in a way that feels natural for a race of their proportions, not like the animators didn’t know what to do with them.
The fact that quest objectives don’t get marked on my map was perhaps the most frustrating aspect of my time in Classic. To be fair, the quest text generally does a pretty good job of giving directions, but not always, and they often require the player to remember where they picked the quest up so they can follow the relative directions. I did eventually end up following Justin’s suggestion and installed the Questie addon. Some people may want a pristine vanilla experience, but I happen to believe that there are some features that were added for a reason. And if the number of times I’ve seen Questie’s name pop up in zone chat is any indication, I’m not alone. For me, wandering around until I find the specific rock I need to look under isn’t immersive; it’s just frustrating.
My complaints about quests and the Paladin aside, the game really has aged pretty well, even to someone like me who’s playing without nostalgia goggles. For all my grumbling about autoattacks, I do generally enjoy the slower pace of life in Classic. I’ve always preferred slower, more tactical combat to the frantic, button-mashing action combat so many games lean toward today. After initially breaking my habit of trying to hop on my mount every time I wanted to go somewhere more than a spell’s throw away, simply hoofing it (Tauren pun intended) everywhere I wanted to go was just fine with me. Classic has many timesinks that annoy me, but I don’t see walking and fighting more slowly as one of those timesinks.
I’ve always applauded Blizzard for making the decision all those years ago to go for a cartoony stylization with bright colors and exaggerated proportions rather than feigning realism. Sure, some of the trees and buildings will hurt your eyes if you look too closely, but overall, WoW’s graphics have aged much better than many of its contemporaries. They don’t look realistic, but that’s OK because they were never supposed to look realistic.
The flagship feature of World of Warcraft is supposed to be its dungeons, so no newbie experience would be complete without a few runs through Ragefire Chasm, right? One night I had a couple of hours, so I started spamming Orgrimmar zone chat and the LookingForGroup channel with “12 shaman lfg rfc”. Someone asked if I could heal, and I said I would certainly give it a try.
Healing was actually surprisingly chill. Given that my mana pool was pretty low at level 12, I mostly put down my totems and stood back and watched until the tank (or DPSers) started taking damage, maybe tossing in a DoT or two if things were going well. At one point, the Mages and I had to ask the tank to slow down and make sure we had mana before pulling. “Oh yeah,” he replied, “too much time in Retail.”
We wiped twice. Once was my fault because I put down my AoE fire totem and it broke the Mages’ crowd control. The other time was just a bad pull, and there wasn’t a whole lot anyone could do. Everyone was nice about it (or at least didn’t say anything), which is always a good sign. I was surprised that, when we died, our ghosts spawned at the graveyard outside Orgrimmar and we had to run all the way back into the middle of the city to get back to the dungeon. For some reason I was expecting to spawn at or near the entrance of the dungeon.
I was also surprised at how simplistic this dungeon was. I probably shouldn’t have been, since it’s an introductory level 13ish dungeon, but if there were spells to interrupt or fire to not stand in, I was blissfully unaware. I guess there was one boss that did some AoE, but other than that it didn’t feel much different from open world play. We cleared out the whole place, including a handful of optional branches for quests, in about two hours.
It was a fun experience, and it left me wanting more. I’m definitely looking forward to trying some of the higher-level dungeons and seeing for myself if WoW’s group content really is worth all of the hype it’s gotten over the years.
This has been a fun experiment, but sadly playing WoW Classic hasn’t made a total convert out of me yet. I’m happy to see others enjoying it, but quite honestly, I think there are better games out there in 2019 that I don’t have to pay a subscription for. Timesinks like corpse runs and slow zeppelin transport that are designed to keep you logged in (and by extension paying a subscription) longer without actually progressing seemed normal in 2004, but now they are painfully obvious to anyone who has grown accustomed to games with more modern designs. That said, I know many people have a higher tolerance for timesinks and a lower tolerance for cash shop shenanigans than I do, and this is definitely the place for those gamers. I think that’s just a difference of opinion, and one that I can certainly understand and respect.
World of Warcraft Classic is by no means a bad game. It has aged remarkably well, and I can see why so many people want to go back to the old days. But it’s just not something I’m personally interested in playing long-term. This shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose, because Classic was never aimed at me; it was aimed at the people who were there the first time. I’m just a tourist. Unless something changes, I plan on playing for the rest of my 30-day subscription and maybe letting it renew once. Then I plan on wishing my WoW veteran friends well and going back to playing something else. Even if it’s not for me, I’m happy that they got the Vanilla experience they had been craving, and I’m glad I got to experience it with them.