Over the past year, it’s been an interesting and illuminating experience to ping-pong back and forth between retail World of Warcraft and WoW Classic. Depending on the month, I may like and appreciate Classic more or I might feel warmer toward retail. In fact, this past September I drew up a list of 10 reasons why I felt that WoW Classic is still pretty darn enjoyable in 2020 (and I stick to that).
However, it’s always possible to like more than one thing, and I haven’t thrown out retail World of Warcraft or joined the trendy parade of disgruntled players who can only see no wrong and never any right. There is a lot to justly criticize about the current game, but today I want to share 10 things that I genuinely like about the current iteration of this 16-year-old MMORPG.
The leveling revamp
Let’s plop this very recent development right onto the middle of our conversation table, because I truly believe that the revised leveling system — with its new beginner area, flexible paths, and level scaling — has made bringing up alts in this game truly fun once more. There’s a great deal of excitement in this Patch 9.0 era among players who don’t have to map out where to go for their latest characters; they can just pick a single expansion, have a great time in it, and find themselves at level 50 in a reasonable amount of time. I’m absolutely loving it.
Art and music
Back when WoW was first announced, I became entranced by the thought of an MMO in a world full of Warcraft’s art style. That hasn’t changed over the years, even though the art and music have improved across the board. It’s still a visually and audibly appealing environment in which to game, and these factors are a huge reason why I put up with a lot of missteps on behalf of the studio.
I’ll tell you one thing I outright despised in WoW Classic: the utter lack of grouping tools. Finding and forming groups to run dungeons (which you then had to spend a whole lot of time traveling to) was such a pain that I quickly said “forget that!” But in retail WoW, finding people to run dungeons or raids is extremely easy, and there are even tools to help put together Mythic groups and parties to handle specific tough challenges on the map. I’m sincerely glad these tools exist, even if they elicit the occasional remark of old school snobbery.
It keeps trying new things
OK, I have a big problem with the “borrowed power” design to character development, and I would not argue with you if you were to complain that the developers never seem to have a firm grasp on where they’re taking the game. But. I have to admit that Blizzard doesn’t always take the easy way out with “more of the same” content that is the standard for other older MMOs. Every expansion and some patches try out some actually new ideas (or twists on established ideas) and features. Some of those work well, some don’t, but I like that there’s a desire to keep exploring a bit off the beaten path to see if there’s an angle that could work better for the game.
There’s so much to do
Like, so much. You can narrow down your experience if you like, but when you take a step back and look at all of the content and features that this game has accumulated since 2004, it’s overwhelming. Recently I got into pet battles for the first time, which I’ve never had time for before. That alone has opened up a whole different part of the game that’s been off my radar, and I feel like I keep discovering stuff like that.
It’s great about guiding you to people and content
Compared to years ago, when it was entirely possible to find yourself at a “what do I do now?” conundrum, in modern World of Warcraft it’s very hard to find yourself stranded without a clue what to do. Both the adventure and guild finder panels do pretty decent jobs of connecting players with content and communities, and many of the game’s standard quests are great about providing breadcrumbs as to where to go.
Ever since the game started collecting and storing your transmog unlocks for you, the fashion race escalated in a big way among the community. For many players it’s not about how powerful their gear is — it’s how amazing it looks. It’s certainly been an effective incentive to get players to dive back into older content, just to get all of those thousands of unlocks they’ve yet to achieve. And at the end of the day, transmog allows me to express my (or my character’s) personality in a way that’s probably different than many around me.
Better cutscene animations
I know this might seem like a small thing, especially in light to how uneven WoW’s storytelling has been as of late, but I’ve really been digging how good the look and animation of characters are using the game’s own engine whenever I find myself in a cutscene. Compared to how choppy and crude this all used to be back in, say, the Wrath era, it’s making these story segments a lot more engaging.
Character building offers a whole lot of choices
Making choices, big and small, when I adventure through CRPGs and MMORPGs is one of the biggest draws of these types of games for me, and I like that there’s plenty of ways that I can shape my WoW character. There are 12 classes and 36 specializations from which to start, followed by talent picks, gear acquisition, profession pick-ups, and whatever advancement method that the current expansion offers. I’d love to see more choice, of course, but I can’t deny that at least I have options on the table.
It still feels like a vibrant MMORPG
There are plenty of smaller MMOs that I enjoy, but when I want to head into a game where I’m not going to worry about population shortages or a possible freeze on development, World of Warcraft is always a safe bet. Sixteen years later and people still love playing and talking about this game. I can’t deny that there’s a real comfort in being part of a community like this, and it helps to offset some of the disappointment I’ve felt in recent years when beloved games have been sunsetted and big challengers are slow to arrive.