When you consider that games rarely go beyond a few years before their audience move on to bigger and brighter pastures, the fact that a title like World of Warcraft has persisted for fifteen is incredible.
Its cultural footprint in the history of gaming is often overlooked, with many happy to scoff, roll their eyes, and laugh at those that occupy the lands of Azeroth. But for many that have roamed the forests of Ashenvale, stormed the depths of Molten Core, and ventured to new lands and continents like Northrend, Draenor, and Pandaria, World of Warcraft or WoW will always hold a special place in their memory.
Of course, a living game like WoW can't stay the same – it has to grow and evolve, a process that doesn't always sit well with those that inhabit its servers. It's no surprise then, that throughout the years Blizzard has been playing whack-a-mole with unofficial servers that were created by players desperate to relive the glory days. In fact, it's that passion from the fans the put the idea of Classic servers on the table in the first place.
So here we are, fifteen years after the original launch and I'm diving back into a game that I had to quit "cold turkey."
What's most impressive is how Blizzard managed to replicate not just the world of Azeroth, but the login experience as well. The first nights of Classic going live were met with queues of thousands of players, resulting in wait times that spanned multiple hours – so yeah, bonus points should be awarded for the developer's attention to detail on that front. Of course, server queues and issues subsided relatively quickly, leaving each server's army of players free to roam the lands of Kalimdor and Eastern Kingdoms.
Everything in Classic is harder, takes longer, and offers less gold, experience, or gear for your efforts. That being said, everything you do feels infinitely more rewarding and gives you far more ownership over your character.
As mentioned in my first impressions, WoW Classic is really about unlearning the play style that has been ingrained in you through expansions from the last ten years. From early levels, it's important to keep an eye on your mana and health – and to never assume that a fight is a sure thing. There's so much that can go wrong – from missed attacks and an enemy landing a critical blow, to an unexpected foe wandering into the fray. Combat always keeps you engaged, at times in spite of quest design that feels tired beyond its fifteen-year age.
For those that are playing solo, the monotony of "kill 15 boars," or "collect 10 of this thing" gets overwhelming quickly – especially when you're competing against every other player in the area to claim each enemy. And don't get me started on the logistics of an escort quest when there's a dozen players all vying for a quest giver that despawns as soon as the escort begins.
It reinforces the notion that WoW is meant to be played in a party – when the grind of fetch quests becomes background to fun banter, and camaraderie between players. Seeing an area's chat humming with life is like hearing a song for the first time in a decade – you didn't realise you missed it until you were reminded it was gone.
A distinct lack of features like matchmaking forces players to reach out and connect in a one-on-one manner. Those connections might be for a few quests, a week, or for the foreseeable future – but act as a keen reminder that the lifeblood of WoW is the players that make it a "massively multiplayer" game. It's something that feels forgotten somewhat in recent years, so it'll be interesting to see whether any of Classic's success will inform future expansions for what's affectionately referred to as the "retail" version.
Classic's biggest strength is also its biggest flaw when it comes to the time required to reap the rewards of harder combat and a longer levelling process. For those that never played the original, that might be possible, but for veterans of WoW's early days, the time needed to sink into a game like this makes for a much longer path to level 60 than I think even Blizzard would have originally intended.
We all have that friend that suffers from a little arrested development. While the rest of us grew up, shifted priorities, and moved on, there was always that cherished friend that managed to entice us out for an all-nighter. WoW: Classic feels a lot like that friend; we share some timeless memories together, and I'll love them until I die, but I just can't play as hard as I used to, and time spent with them always has me feeling regret when the morning rolls around and I have to get ready for work.
As for the future of WoW Classic... there have been rumours of future expansions being rolled out in similar fashion, potentially as the next phase for these servers, or as their own standalone realms. Other fans have speculated about Classic serving as an alternative history to the main game, offering Blizzard the chance to rewrite its story, retcon unsuccessful narratives and offer a fresh take going forward. While unlikely, you can't help but get excited about the possibilities. Regardless of which option the developer chooses, it stands to reason that Blizzard needs to do something to ensure the longevity of WoW Classic.
For now, it's kept alive by a fan base that's taken a time machine back to the good ol' days, but the rose-tinted glasses can't stay on forever.
+ Socialising with players again
+ WoW's players have grown up & matured... mostly.
+ Combat and levelling feels rewarding again
- For many that are coming back, the amount of time required is unrealistic
- It wouldn't hurt for SOME systems to be brought over from modern WoW
- Unclear whether the player base will stick around