While it’s been a blast stepping back into an era where I can re-experience World of Warcraft as it once was, playing WoW Classic has also reminded me of several aspects of vanilla that I never liked so much. The lack of content for casuals at endgame? Yeah, that smarts. Only one flight path per zone (if you are lucky)? Competing for resource nodes? It’s not all been roses and sunshine, my friends.
But perhaps the biggest eye-opening moment of my WoW Classic experience has been how much questing is… not that great, at least in this form. What was once heralded as an incredible step forward for MMOs, vanilla WoW’s quests offered an alternative to straight-up grinding with a narrative overlay.
They’re not all bad, mind you. There are some pretty captivating stories here, and I always thought it was neat that finding certain objects in the world could kick off missions in addition to NPC quest givers. I was a little surprised to be reminded that even this version of the game could utilize scripting in playing out little quest scenes. But WoW Classic is a reminder that this version of questing was half-baked at best.
It’s a bit of a bait-and-switch, really. In the first 20 or so levels in WoW Classic, questing feels kind of normal to our modern sensibilities — if a little dull. There are little civilized hubs where you grab a chunk of quests and accomplish them in the nearby vicinity. Some of these quests even award useful items past experience and money.
But soon enough, WoW Classic’s questing format changes. There are a lot of quests that feature long chains that involve large amounts of travel time, zone hopping, and waiting for you to be the appropriate level to finish them. And what’s worse, there never seems to be enough of them, so to be efficient you’ve got to ping-pong between zones, grabbing what few quests you can accomplish at the time while creating a very messy quest log. For a kicker, many of these quests failed to give you any reward beyond money and XP.
This format was all I knew from 2004 to the early days of 2007, but that all changed when Burning Crusade came to town. Now I’ve heard a lot of commentators talking recently about what features Burning Crusade Classic will bring, but about none of them are talking about the very first thing anyone noticed when they stepped through the Dark Portal.
Questing got way, way better.
OK, so it wasn’t like reading Shakespeare or watching Lord of the Rings, but I found that the questing system went from night to day when I got to Hellfire Peninsula. Blizzard obviously spent a lot of time evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of questing, and it refined that system into a much more palpable product.
Suddenly, instead of sprawling, continent-hopping treks, a great majority of quests picked up in convenient, centralized hubs were done in that very zone. There were more than enough quests to level without having to hit the brakes and grind for a few hours, and — what was perhaps the best addition of them all — many of the quests showered players with useful gear and items.
And not just some gear, but the infamous greens-that-replaced-purples. In the years afterward, we’d recognize this as Blizzard slamming its hand down on that giant reset button, but for those of us casuals who felt increasingly discriminated and alienated from the raiding overlords, it was hard not to be constantly snickering at all of their whining in general chat.
It was such a massive shift that for years afterward, I would come to absolutely loathe old Azeroth’s questing on any new characters, eager for the day that I would hit level 58 and be set free to enjoy the game as it should be.
These days, I feel much the same as I slowly slog my way up through levels in WoW Classic. There’s a lot of enjoyment and fun to be had, to be sure, but having Burning Crusade Classic on the horizon — and knowing exactly what its questing design entails — dampens my current spirits somewhat.
So while I will never be the one to hold up Burning Crusade as the most amazing WoW expansion ever, the shift in questing philosophy is but one of the reasons that I was — and am — more than happy to jettison old Azeroth in favor of a more casual-friendly MMO.