Back then, World of Warcraft was a groundbreaking smash. It revolutionised massively multiplayer online games in the West, where audiences had never topped more than about half a million in the EverQuest days. Parent company Activision-Blizzard doesn’t release current Warcraft subscription numbers, but while they’re certainly down from the glory days of 10-12 million, most estimates put them well into seven figures. 15 years after launch, World of Warcraft is still going strong.
By wrapping years of lore around vast environments, Blizzard brought all those players and more together with a strikingly deep recreation of a fictional world. Azeroth was truly born in 2004, and only by growing over the next 15 years have we been allowed to experience its birth yet again with World of Warcraft Classic.
World of Warcraft Classic is based off an early build of the game. Essentially, WoW Classic solidifies at patch 1.12. Everything is how it was in this version of World of Warcraft, with developers using the original code, graphics and so forth. This means that everything from the 1.12 patch, when the game was released originally, exists exactly the same as it was before in WoW classic here in 2019. Spells and damage mimic the exact numbers they did in the original game and patch.
World of Warcraft (and the MMORPGs it inspired) has long outgrown the punishingly slow pacing of its roots. Blizzard’s first stab at the genre might have been hailed (and condemned) as an accessibility revolution for the genre, but it’s only gone further since. Modern Warcraft may be bloated with superfluous systems, but the core loop has been stripped to a lean beast.
One reason for that popularity was the accessibility that WoW brought to the genre. Everything from exclamation points over quest-givers’ heads – so players didn’t have to talk with every single NPC to find out which ones had missions – to the idea that it was possible to level by just doing quests, rather than endlessly ‘grinding’ by killing monsters over and over again, helped drive brand-new MMO players into WoW’s loving embrace. The game’s bright colours and mildly cartoonish aesthetic helped to emphasise that openness, that concept that anyone could play, and play they did.
The quests are largely the same; hunt six of these, collect 12 of those, take this to that guy over there, but it just didn’t instill that same sense of adventure. Growing up with a game like Ocarina of Time, I’ve always been fascinated with green forests and the secrets they can hide behind every tree and mossy crack in the earth. Is there a cave there? Probably not. But imagine what you’d find if there was one.
Online MMOs were quite different 15 years ago, and it certainly shows in WoW Classic. Not only was the game a true RPG, but it was also the first time players were able to see the vast world of Warcraft from third or first-person perspective. Seeing the Alliance capital of Stormwind is breathtaking and questing through Tirisfal Glades and walking through the fallen kingdom of Lorderon for the first time since Warcraft 3, was certainly a powerful and memorable experience. Gameplay mechanics were certainly different as well. Hunters, for example, have to feed and take care of their pet if you choose to ignore your pet and not feed it, he would actually run away.
Where you fall on that likely depends on your existing relationship to World of Warcraft’s long and storied history. Classic lacks Wrath of the Lich King’s grand scale of storytelling or Legion’s freeform questing. It also lacks the bloated nonsense and spiralling melodrama brought about by each passing expansion.
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