WoW Factor: There’s probably never going to be a World of Warcraft ‘Classic Plus’

But you might not know what one would look like

Surprised? Really?

As I always do when discussing World of Warcraft (and anything else, really), I am putting my cards on the table here: I am really tired of hearing WoW Classic fans talk about “Classic Plus” as a concept. But there’s a reason for that beyond being just cantankerous.

Now, I’ve made my assessment of what Blizzard clearly wants WoW Classic to be, but in the article I also talked about how there was potential to treat this as more than simply a nostalgia project. And let’s not lie to ourselves: There are people who will look at basically anything that sort of looks like a slant rhyme to the concept and see Classic Plus. Season of Discovery? Prototype for Classic Plus! A remixed leveling experience through Mists of Pandaria? Prototype for Classic Plus! They added Mythic+ to Wrath of the Lich King? Secret good fourth episode of – wait, sorry, crossed my wires there, prototype for Classic Plus!

But these are not prototypes for anything. These are exactly what they appear to be at the outset. And there are good reasons to say that, starting with the simple fact that you (yes, you) do not actually know what Classic Plus is.

“What are you talking about, Eliot?” you ask. “I know exactly what I’m asking for!” And it’s true, you do, but please stop asking questions out loud when you read these columns. I can’t actually hear you; I’m just predicting your responses. But I didn’t say you don’t know what you mean; I said you do not actually know what Classic Plus is, and that is because there is no agreed-upon definition beyond just… vanilla WoW, but with some changes.

By that definition, we already got Classic Plus in every one of the time-limited server events that Blizzard has done with the game. Season of Mastery was Classic Plus. But that’s not what people saying it means; what they really mean is vanilla WoW in a persistent non-seasonal state with ongoing changes. And yet what changes are actually acceptable? Which ones count?

Consider the following: What if the WoW Classic servers let you use updated character models? No, it’s not mandatory. In fact, you’ll never know who turned it on and who didn’t. It is a change that makes zero impact on gameplay. Is that part of Classic Plus? Is it denying the spirit of the concept? What about transmog? What about collections?

None of these are things that affect your actual gameplay in a significant way, but to some people they feel like a perfectly acceptable break from the classic game and to some they feel somehow wrong. And there is no actual line to draw here, even when you’re sticking just to gameplay-neutral changes.

It's classically something.

Once you get into making actual gameplay changes, things get way more complicated. Let’s say you just want more quests and dungeons and raids. Fine. So… does that mean more of that, but never covering anything that was actually covered in the expansions? That’s cool. That only rules out Outland, Northrend, Pandaria, anything in Gilneas, the Broken Isles – basically every single thing that we knew about the world from the launch of the game but couldn’t yet explore. It even rules out Quel’thalas. Killer.

“What if they did that stuff, but… differently? So it feels more… Classic?” I mean, when you start asking that question you can kind of understand why Blizzard wouldn’t even try to go that route. There’s not a whole heck of a lot to work with in this context. It’s just a vague collection of ideas without a central hook to latch on to. Even without considering things like budget, how do you make a version of Outland that still feels like Outland but doesn’t feel at all like the actual version we already have?

And again, all of that assumes that “Classic Plus” is a strong collection of agreed-upon traits that work as intended rather than being a very vague notion. Maybe Mike thinks that you could totally bring stuff from TBC into Vanilla and it’d work great, while Sandra really just wants updated models and graphics but no new content, and Josie wants a whole alternate take on progression that goes to Kul Tiras first and creates a whole new arc. All of them are communicating different ideas with the same word.

There is, to be fair, something that at least could approximate Classic Plus, and that involves stuff that was in some stage of development before TBC which was abandoned. It seems pretty clear to me that Karazhan was meant to have a different format (especially since it has no real tie to Outland otherwise) and there were areas that went wholly unused even with the raid. Certain zones like Deadwind Pass, the Alterac Mountains, and Azshara were very underused. Hyjal was fully mapped but not open to players, Azshara Crater existed, there was even an early version of Outland as a single zone.

So can we make that stuff and put it into the game? Well… no. Not really.

make me young, make me young, make me young!

I don’t mean that in the sense of “the designers cannot legally or functionally make a version of Azshara Crater available to players.” Rather, it’s that whatever the original intentions were and however clear the notes about those development plans may be, the people who designed the map are probably no longer there. Some of them for, you know, very good reasons. Even if you hired back all the people who had been working on this content, including the ones who were let go for very good cause, there’s no way of being sure they even have the same ideas as they did when working on something nearly 20 years ago.

What you would get would not actually be authentic old content reborn; it would be new content wearing the skin of old content, made by functionally the same people who are making the retail game. Yes, I’ve long said that the whole smokeshow of “no, I don’t play retail, I play Classic” is deeply foolish, but here it’s even more pointless.

But to top it all off? Blizzard pretty clearly just doesn’t want to do it.

Now, I don’t know what portion of WoW players play WoW Classic because that would require player numbers we don’t have. The closest we got was the Mystery Line, and I am highly reluctant to use that as an indicator of anything because we already dragged it for good cause. But it definitely doesn’t seem as if the majority of players are on Classic alone or even primarily. It seems to be a relatively small, niche project for a relatively small, niche playerbase.

Is that a bad thing? Heck no. But it does mean that Blizzard decided that it deserves a development team that can put out seasonal content and keep running through expansions regardless of whether anyone wants to relive an expansion, something that probably would have changed before five years had passed. This is Blizzard we’re talking about. This is not a studio that takes baby steps, quietly considers feedback, and then proceeds accordingly. It’s a studio that does what it wants, and if players say “that sounds awful” usually responds… well, like this.

Blizzard clearly has made its decision about how it wants to proceed with WoW Classic and where its priorities are with development. Some of that is doubtlessly informed by player numbers, and some of it is informed by what leadership actually wants to do. My gut feeling is that it’s probably more the former than the latter, but I could be wrong about that.

The problem is that even if you think that there’s a groundswell of players who would love Classic Plus, there’s no certainty that you and I would even agree on what qualifies as “Classic Plus” and what doesn’t. So when you combine the cost involved, the time it would take, Blizzard’s overall priorities, and the fact that there isn’t even a single universally accepted definition to begin with… it’s easier to just not. Remember, the last time Blizzard decided to make a major change to Classic something, it went over so badly that the studio tried to ignore that it had previously said this would not happen.

I understand the rationale, even if I don’t agree with it. But it’s time to accept that this is just not a thing that’s happening. And if next year Blizzard suddenly changes course after five years of operating WoW Classic, well, I will eat my hat as is appropriate.

Metaphorically. I don’t own any actual hats.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with almost two decades of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.
Previous articleStar Citizen runs down alpha 3.23’s feature set including the return of Invictus event and a new hoverbike
Next articleCo-op roguelike Rabbit and Steel throws you right into raids without the MMO grind

No posts to display

Subscribe to:
oldest most liked
Inline Feedback
View all comments