MMO Cartographer: World of Warcraft, then and now

How do Classic and Retail stack up, side by side, when you haven't played since 2005?

    
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A note to our readers: This article was written in early October 2019, before Blizzard’s wildly unpopular decision to penalize esports players over a pro-democracy protest. While the exact nature of the future of our Blizzard coverage is something we are still discussing, we are proud of our columnists’ work and do not wish to continue delaying their articles indefinitely, so we’re releasing them this week, including this one. We are not endorsing Blizzard’s recent decisions or actions in doing so.

A month before the whole Hong Kong Hearthstone debacle consumed the gaming industry – and blissfully unaware that this article would ultimately be held back because of it – I put my innocent money down on Blizzard for my MMO Cartographer column here on MassivelyOP. I jumped on the World of Warcraft Classic bandwagon.

It was a combination of FOMO and curiosity that did me in. I am a cheapskate, so this was a much bigger decision than it seems. And I have no regrets about this subscription, just considering the merits of my gameplay. I have gotten at least $15 worth of fun out of the first month.

It seems silly to say that I was late getting into the game because I waited a week, but it also seems that most people prefer to jump in the first second servers open, like Black Friday shoppers stampeding through a department store’s doors at 5 a.m. There’s some perceived prestige in being a “Day One” player, even though it hardly matters when everything shakes out after a few months. What can I say? I like not waiting in queues. And as a notorious cheapskate, I know it takes me a while to come off the money, even for things I know I want.

I haven’t played WoW since 2005, so I don’t have a community I belong to there, but I do have friends that play WoW regularly. So the first thing I did was hit Facebook to see who was playing Classic and where they were playing. I had planned to play Horde, but a few of my friends (who don’t even know each other) were playing Alliance on the same roleplaying server, so that’s what I did too.

I made a few different characters of different races and classes but ultimately settled on a Gnome Mage as my main. I have always liked small and cute races, and I have moved from enjoying the tank role to preferring a DPS-oriented role over the years. I grabbed quests as they became available and ran around in the snow killing wolves, boars, troggs, and trolls. I sold junk and used the money to train. I was surprised that I remembered where many things were. Chat was busy but civil and mostly pleasant. People were friendly and helpful for the most part. It was a comfortable, familiar experience.

The thing is, it was familiar to me because it was the only WoW I knew. How could I truly appreciate Classic without seeing what the Retail version is like?

I decided that I had to cross over to the other side to see. I created a few characters and then decided that I would get the most out of the comparison if I played the same race and class.

The first thing that struck me was that the tutorial has improved immensely. If you’re on your 16th alt, you probably don’t appreciate those first few levels. As a raw newbie, I appreciated both the spoonfeeding and the speed. As a Gnome, I was pleased to see all the machinery and even the pollution in the retail newbie area. It felt gnomier. The Classic snow gets old and seems endless. Classic servers have a more “old school” newbie experience, giving you the barest bones of instruction and setting you loose to battle with wildlife. Retail has a newbie experience more in line with… well, what you would expect from a newer game.

Dude, I am level 3. I know how to accept a quest.

There were a surprisingly large number of other people running around doing the newbie quests on the Retail side, so I wonder if it has gotten a bump from the Classic comeback as well. This held true even when I tried different races and servers. People seemed to mainly be in a hurry, and there wasn’t a lot of casual conversation on the Retail servers compared to the Classic servers. It may be that Classic may have attracted people looking for a community like the one they remember from the good old days, creating a more interactive community. Or it might just be a side effect of playing on a roleplaying server; those have a reputation of being generally friendlier.

I suspect that a lot of people in retail are also in a voice chat with their regular companions, so there’s very little text chat going on. (This is a well-established trend across all games, as far as I can tell.) It seems that there’s a lot more text chat on the Classic side of things. Maybe it is also part of the throwback effect; people playing the older style of game may also prefer that older style of communication. It might also be a side effect of Classic being so new that many people haven’t settled into a guild or Discord channel yet.

I found it very easy to find groups in Classic, which made the questing go faster. People see that you’re killing the same things that they are and will ask you or just invite you to group. That’s especially nice for the socially anxious (like me). On the Retail servers, people are in a hurry to level, and it seems to go fast enough that there’s no real incentive to group up. That’s more in line with more recent games I have played; I can solo a character from 1 to 50 in Black Desert in no time at all, for instance, and it has never occurred to me that I might want to group up at any point in that process.

It turns out I have a much greater appreciation for the Classic experience than I did in when I last played in 2005. It really is an old-school experience. It is just plain fun. I knew it was a good game when it launched, but I was too deep into EverQuest to commit to the jump. Would I recommend Classic to people who want to relive that Classic experience? Absolutely! I would even recommend it for people who have never played World of Warcraft at all.

And now for the controversial bit: Having played and enjoyed both, I prefer Retail. It is a more streamlined experience with all of the modern conveniences and quality-of-life upgrades one would hope to see in a game in 2019. It blows my mind that somewhere along the line, I went from someone who thought WoW was too easy – “just EverQuest for dummies” – to someone who appreciates Classic WoW as a fun throwback but prefers something even easier and faster. I am almost ashamed to admit it. I have become a filthy casual.

Every other weekend, Massively OP’s Mia DeSanzo opens up her satchel of maps and decides where to go next in MMO Cartographer, Massively OP’s journey through MMO worlds, be they old or new, ordinary or unusual, or well-loved or long-forgotten. Expect the eclectic!

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mosselyn
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mosselyn

Classic has been interesting to me. I played intensively 2006-2011, then didn’t do more than an occasional look-in until BfA launched. My feelings about the launch of Classic were “Meh.”

I thought I didn’t want to, but evidently, I did: I tried it, and I’m loving it.

Yes, all the things I remember as being annoying are still annoying, but the scoped down community has brought back all the good things for me, too.

I like that my server feels like something I can get my arms around again. I see the same people and guild names around. I bump into the same people in pugs. The good, the bad, and the ugly can be enumerated and recognized.

I love that there is no group finder. Yes, getting groups can be difficult, but I’ll take that in return for group members talking to each other again, dungeons not being an exercise in speed running, and pulls requiring some strategizing and mindful play. I’ve made friends pugging, just like I did 10 years ago, but never since the group finder was introduced.

I missed the old dungeon experience so much that I can’t even put it into words. I’m in love all over again. I know it’s just the honeymoon period. It won’t feel the same in a year. But I’m going to make the most of it!

Just wanted to add: I’m not dissing retail. It has it’s good points, too, and I still play both. But retail threw some babies I really loved out with the bath water, and I’m happy to recover them in Classic.

Karma_Mule
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Karma_Mule

Much to my surprise I followed a similar path. I had played Wow intensively for a few months, then occasionally for a couple years, never getting a character above level 65-ish. When trying to start new characters I noticed how bland the early leveling experience had become.

I hopped on classic soon after it launched and was having much fun. I was playing w/my bf, and one day he couldn’t play so I decided to play retail to avoid getting too far ahead of him.

Initially retail met all my (bad) expectations: combat was ridiculously easy, my mage’s mana pool was inexhaustible, and the quest hub system was painfully obvious and felt mechanical.

BUT, a couple things surprised me: the revised ability progression had a couple fun twists that made early combat fun despite being overly-easy, and there was a greater variety to quests and their activities.

I continued playing retail now and again, and when I started reaching 30-something-ish I noticed that my mana pool was most definitely NOT inexhaustible, and I was starting to run into larger groups of mobs that forced me to actually start thinking. Nothing too burdensome, but I could no longer completely faceroll.

Meanwhile, in classic I was leveling slower than the majority and was finding myself increasingly alone, and (having spun up an alt to play while my bf was unavailable) quests that took me deeper into caves or enemy camps were getting really hard w/o some others around me.

Eventually I realized I was having more FUN in retail, and the promise of lots more activities beyond level 60 made me break the news to my bf that I preferred retail and wanted to play that more going forward. “Then we live in a broken household” was his reply. (Just kidding…..mostly……)

So, I can sympathize with the author’s journey. Mine followed much the same course.

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Mewmew

“While the exact nature of the future of our Blizzard coverage is something we are still discussing”

I hope that is just a form banner you wrote earlier to slap on any held back Blizzard articles and it’s not something that is still up for discussion. We need to hear the Blizzard news, or else we will go elsewhere to get it. Too many shady things happen across the industry to start holding back game news for personal or political reasons.

Besides that, we shouldn’t tell anybody what they can or can’t write in opinion pieces. Anybody who still wants to do Blizzard articles should do so. I think holding them back was a good idea during the height of the outrage, but I don’t feel us saying someone can’t write about something they want to is doing anything but being hypocritical. If someone still wants to do Blizzard articles, let them.

And the news we need in order to know what is happening in the industry. We don’t really want to have to digest and look at each and every company to see who we can see news about either. Just give us the news and we’ll decide which we want to read.

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Dobablo

Massively do news, editorials and hands-on articles. They is plenty of scope for levels of coverage in each category. For example, in the last week there have been non-news articles on Cartographer, a classic play-story, classic dungeon reviews and BfA music and some mini-news items on datamined stuff and an Overwatch event and previous weeks had heavily featured “Blizzard releases another video about stuff” reblogging Blizzard’s classic launch publicity drive.

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rosieposie

I hate retail’s game systems, it literally turns it into a job with a checklist of tasks. World quests, check. Emissary chest, check. Island expedition, check. Warfronts up, check. Etc, etc. And all these are timed activities, so there’s pressure to do it, or else you’ll miss out.

Now classic! You just log in and the whole world is your oyster. No pressure to do anything. It’s super chill and calming. Damn right I’m playing classic and saying never again to retail.

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leihngwei

Woah, that’s so enlightening. Not only is retail catered to casuals, it’s catered to game streamers too. I watched a few WoW streamers and they did exactly what you posted. None of it was fun to watch, which unfortunately showcases how it is to play. :-/

Bereman
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Bereman

So, unless it’s changed very recently (like last couple months)…

That example of the spoonfeeding tutorial, telling the new player to accept the quest?

For the first 5 levels or so worth of quests (so the quests in the first little area that a new player will start in) they take the hand-holding to such a condescending degree that I worry about what they think of their playerbase…

That second “Click the red button ‘Accept’ to accept the quest?” that they clearly want the new player to see, to make sure that this brand new player knows that they need to press that button to actually make sure they get the quest?

“Don’t worry, lil’ newbie, it’s okay. Big Blizzard has already accepted the quest for you, because clearly for your first few levels you’re incapable of clicking the button they pointed to.”

Like, I get tutorials and how useful they can be. My fav MMO has one of more restrictive ones in terms of guiding you through the first few levels (FFXIV zones you into an area where the only thing you can do is talk to the first quest giver, and the initial MSQ steps take you to their equivalent of hearthstones and makes sure you talk to your class NPC before getting on with the story), but there’s a definite difference between a closely guided tutorial and assuming that even with the directions that have been clearly displayed on the screen as part of the tutorial that the player somehow still needs to have that step completed for them.

Bit of a rant, but I think this is the first article I’ve seen that was actually relevant to this particular pet peeve of mine, heh.

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Dobablo

If you cannot figure out how to turn off a spoonfeeding tutorial then you probably need that spoonfeeding tutorial.

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Bryan Correll

I didn’t want to laugh at that. But I did.

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Jiminy Smegit

Retail feels utterly soulless to me. From the generic sameness of every single zone because of level scaling, to the barren wasteland of nothing in terms of community (until you get to BFA) and even then, the dungeons and all the group content feel like pointless whack-a-mole events to gain generic gear and power up a necklace that has somehow drained all the life from Azeroth (and my interest in the game).

Classic on the other hand is alive with scum and villainy in the chat channels and full of little groups here and there, all battling away to achieve something meaningful. Loot upgrades that actually matter, crafted gear that has purpose and dungeons that at least require a little strategy. It is deeply flawed and often annoying but it has some depth.

Do yourself a favour, screw those turtles getting to the water, leave them and BFA to the buzzards. Come back if Blizz ever releases another real expansion.