Blizzard’s World of Warcraft Classic launches worldwide on Tuesday, August 27. I’m currently in queue spot 6405, with an estimated 41 minutes to wait before I’m allowed to step back into a world I thought we’d left behind forever. It seems an appropriate time to revisit what we’re heading into — and how much the world has changed between now and then.
I’ve leveled a character in the current version of World of Warcraft fairly recently. Warcraft Classic is a fundamentally different game than the current live version, Battle for Azeroth (BfA).
Slower, More Deliberate, and Less-Efficient
Today, WoW’s leveling experience is a comparative sprint. It has to be. It takes a non-trivial amount of time to play from 1-120, and significantly more if you actually want to experience the full sweep of content and storylines baked into WoW from 2004-2019. WoW Classic is a much smaller experience — but you may not notice, because it takes far longer to move across the world.
While Mage Portals and Hearthstones both still exist in Classic, player movement is significantly slower. Some classes have access to movement speed buffs, but mounts become available at lvl 40 and 60, not 20 and 40. Most people didn’t hit Lvl 60 on their first character and immediately run off to purchase a mount, either — saving up the 1000G was enough of a chore that some people, like myself, opted to get epic mounts through PvP.
My character leveling today can run from pull to pull, rarely needing to sit and eat or drink. This was basically impossible in classic WoW unless you were extremely over-geared for content. Today, quests are commonly synchronized between NPCs, and you can handle all of your visits to an area at once. In Classic, you’ll spend more time running back and forth. In fact, quests back in Classic will cheerfully send you across continents, with non-trivial flight times. There are absolutely moments in WoW Classic where you can get up and go make a quick lunch — you’ll get back just in time to see the gryphon land.
Managing bag space is a constant chore, and you’ll be forever running out of it. Most classes have some kind of consumable to keep track of, though it’s a bigger headache for some than others. There’s very little help provided as far as in-game tools or tool-tips. Get ready to enjoy alt-tabbing out to visit Thottbot Wowhead, the one-stop site for all things data-minded from WoW drops.
WoW Classic is grounded in physicality in a way that Battle for Azeroth isn’t. If you want to queue for a PvP BG, you’re going to have to go to where the Battlemaster is and speak to him. Want to run a dungeon? Better find some friends to run it with, because the game isn’t going to match you with people automatically.
But here’s the thing — it’s also more fun. The slower pace and more deliberate nature of the game made it feel more impactful. Exploring the world felt more like genuinely seeing a living, breathing place, not just a collection of flight points and buildings you could visit.
Class Balance: They Aren’t
The first thing to remember about WoW Classic is that the classes are not well-balanced or well-utilized in endgame raiding scenarios. When Blizzard designed the hybrid classes in Classic, it made a conscious decision to only give them one real endgame role. Druids, Paladins, and Shaman were all expected to be healers in endgame. Yes, there were exceptions — I knew a Prot Paladin with Thunderfury in Classic — but modern BfA allows for tremendous flexibility that Classic doesn’t. In Classic, changing your talent spec costs rather a lot of money (once you do it enough times) and can only be done at class trainers.
Warriors were often expected to be tanks, even if they didn’t want to be tanks. Priests were expected to be healers, even if they wanted to be damage-dealers. There was a lot of frustration in the player-base at being pigeon-holed into roles, and virtually every class had a valid complaint or two about how difficult it was to get groups. This was the era of “bring the class, not the player,” in which a raid would gladly bring one Shadow Priest to restore mana for the core healers, but had no use for two. Other classes, like Warlocks, were viable in raid play but often struggled with feeling like gimpy mages with marginally useful pets. While I love the original WoW talent system far more than what the game uses today, the truth is, many builds weren’t particularly great. If you’re only expected to be a tank, or a healer, what’s the point of being able do anything else?
As someone who mained a Paladin originally, I’m still excited to play one again — I just don’t expect to try and raid with her the way I did before. World of Warcraft’s class balance is an open book today, and because of that, it’s possible to pick with an eye towards what you want to do in the endgame (if you plan to play that way). If you mostly want to PvP or focus on other aspects of the game, then a lot of these restrictions don’t apply to you — though be aware, cloth-wearers are squishy and taste good with ketchup. Also, endgame itemization isn’t all that great in a lot of cases.
Why Go Back at All?
I’ve spent most of this piece talking about all of the things Warcraft Classic doesn’t do very well. I could go on. There’s a huge range of topics to choose from. BfA is a superior product, in any number of ways. But it’s Patrick Stewart, playing Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who actually captured my sentiments most-strongly. In a scene from the episode “Relics,” Picard reminisces with Scotty about his first command:
Sometimes, the things we’re drawn back to are not the polished examples of themselves that they became. Sometimes, what we miss are the rough edges, the sense of possibility. Sometimes it’s the friends we made along the way. You can’t go home again — except, now, if you loved the world of Azeroth, you can. You can see the way Ironforge looked the first time you strode through its gates or rode an elevator deep into the guts of the Undercity. I know people who were helped by World of Warcraft. I know at least one person who told me WoW helped save their life. And now, if this period of time has meaning to you, you can go home again.
I’m hoping some MMO fans who came to the genre with a game like Final Fantasy XIV might be willing to pick WoW Classic up just to see a slice of history. Heck, it’d be cool beyond belief to see parents who were kids when WoW Classic was new using it to show their children what the game was like back then. There are people I raided with back in the day who raid with their children now. It’s one of my favorite ideas.
I’ve now spent about two hours running through Elwynn Forest, leading to the rapid extinction of the local wolf and kobold populations. Ran into an old friend along the way. I’ll be logging in again tomorrow and comparing the Paladin experience, then and now.