With a little over a month since the release of Classic, I can certainly tell you it’s been a wild ride this month for the wider World of Warcraft. This week, however, it’s certainly more than past due for us to discuss what’s really more important than its development process or controversies surrounding its main gameplay. Instead it’s more appropriate to discuss what matters to us experiencing the game either for the first time or all over again. This week we’ll discuss the first few hours of Warcraft Classic and how it feels to journey back to Azeroth’s beginnings.
To say that Classic feels nostalgic is a mild understatement. Even down to the most minor aspects of item scaling, everything feels akin to, if not exactly like, the original Vanilla release, even including the unstable servers and massive queue times.
Thankfully, I had taken a minor trip during the week of Classic’s release and got to miss the queue times exceeding several hours. Infamously, in a screenshot we’ve used many times on this website, Azeroth players were forming queues to kill quests mobs in an organized manner. Server instability akin to Vanilla’s initial release stopped a large majority of players from actually engaging and creating a newer character. Even now, nearly a month after the game’s release, queue times have been notoriously long due in part to popular demand. Blizzard continues to make efforts to improve server quality and load, and the experience has by and large leveled out.
Stepping into Classic, I decided to pick up the class I mained during the end of the game’s life cycle: the Warrior. Notoriously seen as both one of the most brutal classes to level due to their high damage reception, Warriors are a classic fantasy staple and a vital part of any raid team in Classic. They are also one of the most painful things I’ve ever played in my life.
There are multiple reasons for this. Due to Classic’s reduced creature and character stats, all classes are inherently disadvantaged in comparison to the live game. Due to this scaling, as well as armor rating’s effectiveness reduction, players both receive more damage and deliver far less. This inherently makes every encounter in the world both far longer and far more dangerous. Certainly, as a character with higher armor rating, you’d potentially survive an encounter with one or two creatures. Not, however, without a great deal of damage.
In playing a Warrior, this phenomenon reaches a terrifying apex. Not only must you directly engage these enemies in melee combat, but your damage and mitigation are based almost entirely off of the stats of your equipment. This means that not only do you require the best armor you can find, but in order to be even remotely effective you also need the best WEAPON you can find. Of course, if you don’t have the appropriate weapon skill leveled, which can only be increased by enemies of your level, you’ll never hit an opponent with it.
Consequentially, you’ll be taking more and more damage in combat than you’d like no matter what your class is. Without abilities like Exhilaration of Victory Rush now baked into most Live classes, taking secondary professions such as First Aid or Cooking is mandatory to decrease your downtime during leveling. Even then, your class doesn’t really feel like it’s entirely complete until you reach level thirty-five and up, gaining several damage boosting or resource generation abilities that rework how you engage encounters. The entire leveling process is obtuse, backwards, long, over-burdened and often terrifying…
…And that is why Classic is becoming so well beloved.
Compare it, for a moment, to the modern Live version of World of Warcraft. While we have covered it extensively already, Live’s issues stem from a less than dynamic form of engagement. Due to stat tuning being geared more towards end-game encounters and the prevalence of stat heavy items early on, world-encounters are not a difficult endeavor. Instead of a challenging obstacle that must be surmounted to continue, it is instead another thing to waste time on until you get your next level. Whereas there are potentially new rewards at every level in Classic either in the form of new talent points or other abilities to learn; those can be as far apart as fifteen levels at a time in Live.
Even in pushing through past level twenty in Classic, there are certain abilities you DO NOT NEED TO LEARN. Warriors, aside from their first rank of it, have no need to learn further ranks of Sunder Armor, Shield Block, Mocking Blow, or Demoralizing Shout until they start tanking full-time towards the endgame. This is based on the concept of learning your abilities from class trainers, skillsmasters who will educate your character for a price. In Live, that’s a concept so alien as to be ludicrous; abilities are gained and scale their output automatically as you progress in level.
Classic is many, many things. It’s frustrating, poorly optimized, obtuse, difficult, non-impactful and, at many times, incredibly ludicrous. In saying all of that, observing all of those traditionally awful things, it’s not hard to see why this version of Warcraft is so wonderful.
Engaging enemies is frustrating because it forces you to think; should I charge into the pack of Quillboar or is it wiser to body-pull them one at a time? While the game is poorly optimized in its encounters, it forces you to be more social with players. Together you can defeat that enemy you’re both struggling against. It’s obtuse and difficult in order to force you to engage in as much of it as possible. Surely, you’re unequipped to take on the next part of your quest but if you picked up Leatherworking your Druid might be better suited to the task. Surely, it’s non-impactful because every little talent point only increase your critical strike by 1%, but getting that new point each level encourages you to invest spending it in the wisest possible way. Yes, it’s indeed ludicrous because some of these enemy respawns that are five seconds apart in a crowded space are BROKEN AND DUMB.
However, when you pull all of that together, it creates a fundamentally wonderful experience. I can remember every quest I’ve completed so far with clear vividness. If you want to take time aside to work on professions or train your skills you are intrinsically rewarded with things that directly tie back into your current level of performance. In my first ten hours of Classic I spent entirely too much time focused on crafting a Heavy Copper Axe simply because it offered me one additional point of stamina. With the game’s increased weight on smaller numbers, however, that one point of stamina allowed me to partially take an additional hit from enemies I might not have been able to.
Even doing dungeons, while difficult for a number of reasons, is far more rewarding than just gaining additional levels and experience. When my current Live guildmaster was interested in tanking Ragefire Chasm, we worked on stirring up a group of three warriors, a priest and a hunter to dive into the instance. Between the five of us, we tracked down every single quest available for the instance, from Undercity to Thunder Bluff. Not only did several of us gain two or three additional levels, we learned more about how to manage our classes in that setting; while our Hunter didn’t leave growl on, our warriors certainly learned how to spend their rage more wisely. Even though we didn’t get a host of rare-quality items, every single person left with enough uncommons to make any Quillboar tremble in fear.
Likewise, I was hunting Fizzle Darkstorm in Durotar. As a level 12 leader in the burning Blade, he was surrounded by his acolytes who would very quickly respawn. After an hour of trying to clear them out so I could face Fizzle, a Warlock stumbled across us and threw a gyrospanner into my plans. In moments after a fatal pull that killed us both, his students respawned. We teamed up together to take him down, using her Voidwalker to slap Fizzle into the ground while I pulled creatures off of her with my Defensive Stance abilities. I had a similar situation on the Echo Isles, where a fellow Warrior and I stood back to back against a horde of mind-controlled trolls!
Systems like these, as perhaps as outdated as they are in the modern games industry, work at creating vibrant and sustainable enjoyment in a game. Its why games such as Dark Souls are remembered so fondly, especially when we are forced to participate in some jolly co-operation. Certainly, it’s a dumb, stupid, anger-inducing and difficult game. However, it is so well constructed that, in order to utilize it to its fullest, you need to get into every aspect of it and enjoy taking your time. It forces you to slow down your pace and enjoy breezier aspects of the world, giving you a slow and incremental increase in power that over time reflects the progress you have made. Now that I have the equipment and levels, I could certainly turn around and stomp Fizzle’s stupid face into the dust!
All of this is why Classic’s gameplay is so quickly becoming beloved. Something that the Live Development Team very quickly needs to take notice of.