This spring, the era of Wrath Classic will officially come to an end when the Cataclysm Classic pre-patch hits ahead of the summer launch. With no current option to stay in Wrath’s setting and design, the WoW Classic community has to choose whether to bail, go forward into the next expansion, or jump to one of the vanilla game modes.
It’s a moment that we knew was coming and hoped that Blizzard would handle with more boldness than a predictable acquiescence to easy profits. With the Rubicon between the “real Classic” era crossed and the project taken into a more modern design, the question that arises becomes all that much more pressing and even disturbing: When will WoW Classic stop pressing forward with expansions?
While moving Classic into Burning Crusade and Wrath generated some criticism, a good portion of the community was pretty fine with it. It still felt old-school in pacing but brought in some welcome quality-of-life improvements (like viable specs across the board!) that were sorely needed. And Blizzard wisely created Classic Era servers to preserve this vanilla environment, taking the sting out of some of the critiques.
But as the studio pushes into the third expansion for WoW, we’ve seen an interesting phenomenon as enthusiasm for regular Classic has dipped and engagement with the Classic era servers booms. The common response to this observation is that if players wanted a modern-feeling WoW, they’d play retail. At least Classic era stays rooted in the past.
Of course, this isn’t going to deter Blizzard from turning Classic into an ongoing progression server. And I’m sure that’s not a dismaying thought for some people who don’t care about vanilla purity as much as being able to continue their character’s progression and journey. It’s also triggering a re-evaluation of Cataclysm, which is an interesting topic by itself.
But let’s get back to this column’s question: When is Classic going to stop? If you’re on board with Cataclysm, it’s not because this is where you want it to wrap up; you want to keep going into Mists of Pandaria at the very least.
Mists Classic would be a good stopping point for a few reasons. It was a high point in WoW’s expansion train that offered a lot of content and casual-friendly activities (like the little farm everyone adored). It would get Monks and Pandas onto the rosters. And ending it there would still keep several expansions between WoW Classic and retail as a sort of timeline buffer so that the lines aren’t blurred too badly.
If Blizzard doesn’t tire of Classic by then and still sees profitability in absorbing more expansions, then I honestly don’t know where it would stop. Warlords and Legion are a good one-two shot of enjoyable content that’d once again culminate in a high point. Past that, it would seem very silly to call any of the last few expansions “Classic” in any sense of that term.
One possibility I foresee is that the studio will settle on a stopping point for the Classic journey but then repackage it all into a proper fresh progression server that makes its intentions known from the onset. By then, it’ll all be tested and polished, and players who missed the train the first time around will be glad to go on a subsequent trip.
Another possibility is that one day Blizz throws in the towel on most or all of Classic to consolidate the projects and bring the versions of WoW back down to one or two. Maybe it would cite layoffs, restructuring, or declining interest in Classic as justification, but it would really be to simplify a situation that’s gotten more complicated over time (and try to prop up retail by redirecting people back toward it, maybe).
I’ll toss out one final possibility — a very remote one — before turning this discussion over to you in the comments. It could be that Cataclysm Classic ends up backfiring or being a huge dud for the studio to the point where Blizzard might (gasp) realize it made a mistake. It could then open up fresh Wrath-era servers, nix Cataclysm (while offering characters on those servers a transfer to retail), and retroactively reset the line of Classic to where it should’ve ended.