Wednesday, August 21, 2019

You Will Hate World of Warcraft Classic

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I started playing World of Warcraft in August 2005, having received it as a birthday gift. At the time, it was the only game kids at my middle school would talk about. I remember sitting on the bus in 7th grade on my way home from school, and all around me everything I heard was World of Warcraft related. Literally everyone was playing it (or Halo 2, but by then the hype for that was dying down a bit).

When I first fired up World of Warcraft on a crappy hand-me-down Dell Latitude laptop, I was entranced. It was the first mmorpg I had played that made me feel like I was in an entirely different world. Sure, I had played Runescape before, but that was a browser-based game with a top-down perspective that gave you limited control over your player and your perspective.

World of Warcraft, by comparison, was a completely different animal. You could actually control your character, rather than pointing and clicking. Combat felt sensational; you could feel the power coursing through your character's veins as you launched firebolts at unsuspecting kobolds. Everywhere you went felt like it was fully-realized, with stories waiting to be told, friends to meet, quests to complete, and gear to obtain.

Some of my most fond memories of World of Warcraft involve entering new zones and becoming immersed in the locales. I knew the scattered, burning farms of Westfall like the back of my hand. I knew which routes to take to avoid the various elite undead enemies in Darkshire lurking around every corner. Every new zone was like a puzzle, a game within itself. It really felt like you had to "beat" a zone by thoroughly understanding it and unlocking most of its mysteries before you were prepared to move on to the next.

Because I chose to level my human mage on Mannoroth, a PVP server, I also had to keep my eyes open for opposing Horde players wherever I went. Countless times I was ambushed and killed by Undead rogues combing Darkshire for victims, and I loved it because it gave me an excuse to join groups of fellow Alliance members tasked with hunting Horde players to keep leveling areas safe.

As an anti-social player who prefers soloing, World of Warcraft was unique in that it encouraged me to play with others. There were multiple incentives for doing so: strength in numbers was a real thing back then, and often the best rewards were locked behind group quests. But also, because leveling took so long in 2005, you often found yourself questing and grinding in the same zone for weeks of real-time.

Other people would be in the same boat as you. So if you were leveling up in Stranglethorne Vale or the Arathi Highlands, chances are you encountered the same people on most days. As long as you kept logging in on a relatively daily basis, you'd essentially stick with this cohort of people all the way up to level 60. By the time you were in your 20s or 30s especially, you definitely had some sense of who most of the other players in your level range were.

Gear also had more significance at that time. It wasn't something that you completely discarded every level or so, especially with regard to weapons. As a mage I remember having my weapon upgrades mapped out via quick searches on thottbot; the red-tipped staff from VC (now called the deadmines), the green-tipped staff from Scarlet Monastery, the metal-tipped staff from Zul'Farrak, etc.

Eventually I got my hands on all of these weapons after several dungeon runs, and each lasted me several levels. In fact, the last one remained equipped from my mid-40s nearly all the way until I received an Azuresong Mageblade from Molten Core. While gearing up was definitely a focus in Vanilla World of Warcraft, it wasn't anything like how it is today, where you might only have a weapon for a few minutes before finding an upgrade.

My World of Warcraft story probably mirrors that of a lot of people who started playing in 2004 or 2005. I eventually defeated Ragnaros, and then Nefarian (before any significant nerfs). Like most, I never really made any progress in AQ or Naxxramas.

In Burning Crusade I was lucky to defeat Illidan near the end of the expansion while apart of a very casual raiding guild. In Wrath of the Lich King I participated in our guild's first defeat of the Lich King.

After Wrath, I pretty much quit playing World of Warcraft seriously. My casual raiding guild largely disbanded, and from then on I mostly played solo. I would return to playing WoW for a few months at a time here and there, mostly to check out new expansions. The last time I played was during Legion. I have yet to buy Battle for Azeroth.

Given the fact that I loved World of Warcraft in its original form, why do I think that most will hate it? The reasons are pretty simple: I don't think there's a long-term market anymore. And before you scoff, hear me out.

There are two types of people who I think are going to try to play World of Warcraft Classic when it releases next week. People younger than me who never got to experience it, and people my age or older who want to re-live the nostalgia of their younger years.

I highly doubt that people who never played Vanilla WoW will want to stick with WoW Classic. Yes, they may enjoy it at first, but then the grind will set-in. While I'm sure WoW Classic can be as addicting as ever, it's probably less so now than it was in 2005. Back then, World of Warcraft had one of the best open worlds ever, innovative combat, and was more immersive than most games at the time. While it's still good in all of those areas, it's no longer great. Younger gamers all grew up playing Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and other genre defining open world games. In comparison, WoW Classic will seem quaint.

While I am sure some younger gamers will be caught in WoW Classic's addicting loop of "input effort, receive enjoyment, rinse and repeat," I don't think they will remain as dedicated to it as people were in 2005. They have other options nowadays (there seems to be a new flavor of Fortnite released every other month). When they experience the leveling doldrums in the 30s or early 50s, I doubt most will stick it out when they can play newer games that offer more instant gratification and possibly better gameplay. Heck, I almost quit in 2006 when I ran out of quests in the Western Plaguelands trying to level from 51 to 52. How would the gamers of today react to that?

As for people my age or older who experienced Vanilla World of Warcraft in its prime, I just don't think nostalgia is enough to get us back into the game. We're all older now. We all have full time jobs. While we may try it out for a few weeks or months to try and re-live our formative years, I doubt we'll stick around for much longer than that. What would be the point? We've already had our adventures. We've lived out the story before. It's no longer new. So what would be the point in wasting more time on something we've already experienced when there are other things out there for us?

The other problem I foresee deals with the merging of the two groups of players outlined above. WoW Classic's playerbase is going to be composed of a strange mix of people who have never played Vanilla, and people who played it too much. While that might work out just fine, I think it might lead to certain frustrations, especially for new players. Are people who played Vanilla for years going to have the patience to deal with those who have no clue what they're doing? Will people who are only familiar with newer games have patience for those who want to play the game like it's 2005? It remains to be seen.

Of course, I could be wrong about all of this. And I don't think any of this will matter in the first few months after World of Warcraft Classic's release. But a year down the line? Two years? I don't foresee it maintaining anything but a niche playerbase.

As mind-blowing as World of Warcraft was in 2005, it was often still a poorly paced slog. Leveling was slow, sometimes exceedingly so. You almost always ran out of quests, forcing you to grind for experience. Gear upgrades once you reached level 60 were often few and far between. One of my fondest memories from Vanilla World of Warcraft was upgrading my bracers, which by that point I'd had for months, to the Tier 1 epic bracers that dropped from Molten Core. While at the time this mechanic made me happy, I don't see myself dealing with that nowadays.

Everyone says they want effort to mean something in a game, but I'm not sure they mean it to the extent that this was true for some aspects of Vanilla WoW, especially once you reached about level 50. If I had to make a prediction, I would say that most people will enjoy the initial several levels of World of Warcraft Classic, probably up to around level 35 or so. They will enjoy the camaraderie, the atmosphere, the meaningful gear upgrades, and the skill and attention to detail required to be good at the game. And perhaps this is enough, because in the end, Vanilla WoW was more about the journey than it ever was about the destination.

But as people are required to put more and more effort into a game that's now far from bleeding edge, I think you'll see a mass exodus, which will then whittle down the playerbase to a small group of dedicated people. Part of me is happy that so many people will be able to experience something akin to what I experienced way back in 2005. But at the same time, I also feel somewhat sad knowing that they'll be playing a game that perhaps mimics Vanilla World of Warcraft in form, but not in spirit.


1 comment:

  1. Wow, this paragraph is nice, my sister is analyzing such things,
    so I am going to tell her.

    ReplyDelete