So it seems pretty likely at this point that we are going to keep going through the various World of Warcraft expansions with Classic servers for a while now. It’s not certain by any means, but that does seem to be the trajectory hinted at thus far, and even without that element this would be one of those cases wherein I dropped hints about doing a future column that was actually announcing plans rather than just vague suggestions.
Thus, it’s time to take a tour through the expansions, revisiting the premise, the community feeling, and other fuzzy data from the time to paint a picture of each individual expansion in a walk forward from WoW Classic. So let’s start this all off with what would be the obvious beginning, the first expansion the game ever had, a trip to the place people are still calling by the wrong name years later: The Burning Crusade.
Premise & setting
The Dark Portal is open again, so now you can go back to Outland. That’s it. That was about all of the premise. In fact, what enriched things more than that was simply the reality that the expeditionary forces from the second war turned out to have not been wholly wiped out; there were still demonic orcs, there were still old Alliance troops, and it turned out that Illidan had managed to start a full-on war against the Burning Legion that didn’t seem to bode well for anyone back on Azeroth.
Outland had been briefly glimpsed in Warcraft III by this point, a ruined wasteland floating in the void and a refuge for Kael’thas Sunstrider following his betrayal by human forces which were, essentially, the precursor to the Scarlet Crusade. The actual form of the continent was far more diverse, however, ranging from the wide-open landscape of Nagrand to the blackened wasteland of Shadowmoon Valley and the arcane nightmare of Netherstorm.
The biggest and most obvious change was that this added an entirely new continent for players to explore with a whole lot of new quests – and it’s important to note that at the time, your endgame content if you weren’t in the one hardcore raiding guild on your server was basically nonexistent. Suddenly having quests to do again was novel in and of itself. But these quests were also more dynamic than old quests, frequently featuring cinematic aspects, telling an ongoing story, and so forth.
This is especially true in the opening zones of the two new races introduced, the Draenei for the Alliance and the Blood Elves for the Horde. And while there were no new classes introduced, Draenei and Blood Elves did introduce new classes for their factions, with Blood Elves acting as Paladins and Draenei getting to be Shamans, meaning that both factions could now play all nine classes on various races. This meant that Shaman and Paladin no longer needed to be opposite-faction counterparts to one another and could develop more distinct identities.
That worked out well with the extra 10 levels meaning expanded talent trees, each of which gave a very distinct new identity for previously underused specs. The goal was to have every spec be useful now, so rather than every Warrior being expected to go for Protection, all three Warrior specs should be useful in either DPS or tanking as chosen. That also meant more diverse gear, rather than forcing DPS Warriors or Paladins to downgrade into mail or leather; now you actually had plate gear with damage stats!
This also dovetailed with the fact that gear was now actually itemized properly in the world and quests rather than just in most recent raids. It also dovetailed with the addition of the new badge system, which itself was tied into the new heroic dungeons that you could take on, harder versions of the leveling dungeons that offered you more powerful gear in exchange for endgame challenge. You would also get badges you could exchange for gear.
Oh, and this is where we got our first daily quests, originally meant as a fix for some spammable repeated quests that were being overused. And flying mounts. And the idea of reputations offering worthwhile gear. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming to list all of the things that TBC offered the game; it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the entire nature of an endgame being something other than trying to get a raid spot started here.
Also notable is that this expansion changed raid sizes to be 10 players for some easier raids and then 25 players for the higher challenges. This would have a later knock-on effect, but here the general effect was to tilt the equation away from having raids be a handful of people paying attention and lots of ablative meat and much more toward mechanical execution.
On a whole, players loved TBC. There was a whole new continent and new quests to do and players who had gotten used to getting bored at max level suddenly had, like… stuff to do. It was kind of overwhelming, even.
Of course, this did provoke some outcry about “they changed it now it sucks” almost immediately. There was an immediate outcry about the change in raid sizes, with many tearful players complaining that they no longer had space for all of their friends in a single raid. The addition of badges also produced no small amount of protest that now players could get much better gear without “earning” it, with particular scorn being heaped on Karazhan; quite easy at higher gear levels, Karazhan awarded enough badges to make it easy to buy the expensive and powerful items for sale on the Isle of the Shattered Sun (which were the equivalent of drops from the Black Temple, the penultimate progression raid).
There were also some people very angry about the changes to Draenei lore, moving them away from being twisted wretches to being sexy goat-demon-angels from space. On the one hand, this was a real issue, and it did seriously alter the perception of the Eredar now that you could play their good version. On the other hand, I love Draenei so much and the race has so many cool stuff you can do with them that Blizzard doesn’t seem to know what to do with them, so I don’t care.
And… let’s be honest, not all of the spec changes quite worked. Yes, Enhancement was now very useful in damage, but Retribution was still sucking wind. I seem to recall Feral Druids still struggling mightily to serve as main tanks even with their new toys. It was a step in the right direction, but some specs were still either insufficiently useful, not distinguished, or both.
Still, the general consensus was delight. People felt like this was a real improvement on the base game, with the only real downside being those rare times you were forced to go back to Azeroth and had to deal with no flying and older quests and such. And even that wasn’t a huge deal; an extra 10 levels usually meant you had the ability to take on any enemies with minimal effort.
A wanted Classic experience?
The biggest problem that The Burning Crusade has isn’t that it’s not good. It’s easy to forget how good it was, though, because its immediate followup was even more loved, and so very few people were pining to go back here once we’d gone further forward. It also represents a stepping stone between the generally agreed high point in the next expansion and the nostalgic hardcore-except-not push for the original vanilla game.
As such, the biggest issue with TBC as a Classic experience is that it is, oddly, not enough of anything, neither as nostalgic as vanilla nor as loved as its successor. The question is less whether people would like it and more whether people would be willing to go for it as a midpoint between the two.
Fortunately, though, there’s certainly enough content to fill things out (phase 1 would be Karazhan and Gruul/Magtheridon, phase 2 is Tempest Keep, phase 3 is Black temple, phase 4 is Sunwell Plateau) and there is a distinct experience at this stage of the game that many people never got to have. I imagine there are people who are still salty about the raid size changeover who would like a chance to actually experience Sunwell Plateau as novel and challenging content, something that didn’t happen for many players.
I don’t think it quite has the hardcore nostalgia cachet that the original classic setup did. But then, could anything? That’s almost secondary to the experience itself. And it’d actually be a nice reminder of how much better everything really was with the game’s first expansion, bringing back to the first night for my wife and I, sitting and playing after standing in line for midnight release.