I was foolishly naive when I started this game last week.
In the lead up to WoW Classic's release, I'd been laughing with friends about how many players were going to struggle in the original version of Azeroth; how they had never known the struggles we veterans faced back in the day, and how modern WoW had made them soft and entitled.
Not me, though... I had been there when server queues were a nightly thing, levelled countless characters to 60 and beyond, and stood over the defeated remains of Ragnaros, Onyxia, C'thun and others. I knew what Classic had in store for me, and was ready to grind it out.
What I didn't realise was that in my years of playing Warcraft since, I too had grown soft and entitled.
Sure, I powered through my starting area with ease and set out into The Barrens in speedy fashion, but my first death after going toe-to-toe with a zebra (a god damn ZEBRA!) quickly informed me that mindless button mashing while I watched Netflix on my other screen wasn't going to cut it.
Playing the game back in 2004 came with a learning curve that demanded an adoption of attack-combos, resource conservation, and keeping a stock of healing flasks close at hand. Fifteen years later, I was going to have to unlearn everything consequent expansions had drilled into me and get back to basics.
Blizzard had always meant for players to group up and play through content together. It was only when later expansions moved the player base to new regions that adjustments were made for new players levelling through old content – making enemies easier to kill and less experience required for each level.
The need for assistance, coupled with the fact that matchmaking tools have been stripped from the game [they were only introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion], makes players far more approachable and willing to team up. There's a social element to the game that hasn't been felt in a long time.
The chat in each zone buzzes with players looking for groups, tailors offering their services for larger bag capacity, or the occasional alert of "Alliance in Ratchet" declared as a call to war.
Conversation in guilds or dungeon groups, also hints at a community that is all grown up. Those looking for additional party members will sometimes be met with "sure, just need to put the baby down," or "nah, it's getting a bit late and I've got work tomorrow." It seems that many coming to Classic were there at the beginning, and even if they were in their teens at the time of launch, they're adults now, with a more mature take on life. There's patience, empathy, and camaraderie with those that are stepping back into a world of cherished memories.
My first run through Ragefire Chasm saw us take a wrong turn, as one member took a detour. Rather than your expected "this way, noob!" our tank simply offered "guess we're exploring" and charged in to save our wayward party member from being overwhelmed by enemies. No arguments, nobody dropped group – we all just took up arms and charged in. That same group stopped to check if everyone had completed their quests at the end of the dungeon run, before bidding farewell and disbanding.
The time spent in each zone has probably been the biggest point of contention for me. Caught up in my power-fantasy, I'm used to blitzing through quests with efficient ease and watching my XP bar fill at a steady rate. Not so with Classic. After two weeks, I'm only just scratching level 20.
A lot of that contention and impatience comes from knowing what's in store for me at level 60. I'm looking only at the destination, and not enjoying the journey along the way. That extra time spent in each zone is what made WoW feel like such a real, living place originally, before we could soar over the top of it on our flying mounts – negating the efforts of Blizzard's level design.
Being forced to spend more time with my fellow players is also giving me more ownership over my character. I'm not a player that's boiled down to a level number, class, and specialisation, but a person that's recognised by other players along the way. It's hard to describe the feeling of being recognised by another player with whom you quested with a few hours or days before, but it's something I haven't felt in... well, fifteen years.
There's a lot of design and architecture in the game that's showing its age, and highlights just how far the developers have come, but also how far they've strayed. Sure, levelling is tough, but every bit of experience feels earned, and those that reach the level cap do so with a great deal of prestige attached. Already many of these grievances are being met by the community with the semi-apologetic phrase "that's Classic." The subtext almost reads "this is the hell we asked for." For those that are jumping in purely to experience Molten Core or Blackwing Lair again, you'll definitely find Classic a real grind, and it's hard to tell how much of the community will stick around once the buzz dies down.
Sure, there's a whole smorgasbord of end-game content that awaits me when I hit 60, and I'm holding off my full review until that time. But for now I'm in no rush – I'm simply a Tauren that's stopping from time to time to smell the peacebloom.