Classic WoW and the Art of Exploration

Vanilla World of Warcraft (or Classic to be know from here-forth), still brings back sweet memories and haunting boss drops. Whether played for fun or as a lifestyle, the first iteration of WoW changed the culture of online gaming forever.

I remember stopping at Best Buy off of Route 43 somewhere between Lake Geneva and Milwaukee, in Wisconsin. A close friend told me to pick up the game, and that was enough of an endorsement for me. Upon returning home in the safe confines of my northwest suburban home outside of Chicago, I installed it (2 hour install!?). I watched the first cut scene, and I took control of my human warrior (possibly the least original build).

What took place next was a 12-month love affair with WoW. I played every night, I talked about it every day, and when I wasn’t playing or talking about it, I was thinking about it. Before you get some picture of a twenty-something sitting in his parents’ basement, I did have my own place, and I was in grad school. So at least give me that. Or don’t.

What blew me away wasn’t the graphics, which were ok. It wasn’t the originality of quests, which repeated pretty regularly albeit in different zones. It wasn’t even the music or the still iconic opening cut scenes. What blew me away was that I kept wanting to explore.

When I was 5, I made my first true friend. We lived a couple blocks away from each other, and there was an expansive wooded area right next to my house. After school, we’d run or bike to my house and then explore. Every day. It didn’t matter if it was raining, or cold, or both – we had to explore. In a funny and not funny way, exploring was our drug. It teleported us out of our daily world and placed us in an unfamiliar setting where we could walk and discover for days.

By late elementary school, after years of exploring, and growing older, we still would rush home from school and explore. Except now we would build forts. Yeah – we were those kids. We built a fort about a quarter mile away from my parents’ house. This fort had sticks entwined together and an entrance from the top that you could only get to if you climbed a tree a little ways to the side of fort and then basically tight-roped a dead branch (safe, right?) to the top of the fort. Then there was a latch on the door. We were creative, but why not be? It’s our frontier – our undiscovered planet.

Then we got to middle school. Guess what? Yup! Still exploring! Except now it wasn’t every day, it was once a week. We’d hit our usual spots we knew about, and then we’d just pick a direction and start trekking. Soon we discovered that other kids were building forts in places we hadn’t been to yet. It blew our minds! Other explorers. When we got to school, we started asking around.

“The fort with the tall branches stacked around it? Yeah – I made that.” Of course this classmate had help from a friend too.

“We have one by our house. Want to check it out after school!?” Looks like two friends just made two new friends.

[The last two quotes were generalized as I do not specifically recall our conversations from well over 20 years ago. I did want to match the spirit though.]

By the end of high school, with one of us going to college and the other apprenticing as a carpenter, we took one last day after school and set about exploring. We blew off a double date with two cheerleaders (they were not happy and wholly incredulous when we told them the next day that we were in the woods). It was the principle of the thing. Forts before hos.

(The cheerleaders were delightful, lovely women who do not deserve to be categorized as hos.)

World of Warcraft awakened that sense of exploration in me all over again. Sure, I was 23, in grad school and working full-time. I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to throw on a rain jacket, drive 30 minutes back to where I grew up, and explore. But the sense of wonder Azeroth brought me took me back to 5-, 10-, even 15-year-old me. Except this time others were in on the exploration, and it wasn’t a race as much as a big party of people walking through the woods. And boy is it fun walking through the woods.

When Blizzard launches the Classic server that will be Vanilla WoW, people will come back to the game. How do we know that? Because it’s human nature. Humans like to replay things. We like to replay video games, rewatch movies, and at our worst, re-engage in past relationships. It’s a total double-edged sword. This is why people keep old consoles, and this is why The Ringer has a whole podcast called The Rewatchables that discusses old movies that the podcasters have recently rewatched together. This is a thing.

And when these people come back, Blizzard will reap the financial windfall. I for one will play again, and that’s after Legion left me high and dry because it couldn’t fucking figure out how to merge PvE and PvP. Why don’t we just let them be separate entities altogether? I haven’t played in months, and I have zero intention of returning until the Classic server is launched. Just think about it this way: if 10,000 people come back and subscribe, at $15 per month, that’s $150,000 in extra revenue every month. Or for movie fans out there, if you build it, they will come. They will come and scream over Discord.

Vanilla WoW holds a place in our hearts similar to most top video games. We’re simply nostalgic for it. It’s like waking up in the morning, remembering the good dream you were having, and then falling back asleep and re-entering it again exactly where you want to! How can we pass this up!?

We can’t. And that’s why the Classic server is going to be legendary.

Questions do remain: will there be a BC server? A WotLK server? Will there be class/spec balancing? Will Mankrik’s wife still be in the Barrens? The last one is probably yes. The rest? Blizzard doesn’t know yet.

These questions get at the heart of the future of the Classic server. This task is an overwhelmingly large project. Blizzard is doing everything right right now by being open and honest with their fanbase, providing realistic discourse, and flat-out telling people that the Classic server is not for the average current player: it’s for a specific group of people looking for the original WoW experience.

We want to see the Classic server succeed. The Burning Crusade was a hit because Blizzard expanded players’ options: more classes, more specialization with gear, and more quests. Holy Lord more quests. Landing in Hellfire Peninsula and seeing so many quests was probably the biggest shock the first time I arrived there. That and the Fel Reaver. Good ol’ Fel Reaver. Stomping me to death when I afk’d for a beer.

Wrath of the Lich King succeeded because what was once a mythical land, Naxxramas, a place that not even a hardcore raider could get to on most servers, became the starting raid zone for guilds and pugs. Want to see Naxxramas from the inside? Bust your butt leveling to get to 80, and then you could make that happen. Couple that with a more incentivized daily quest system, and people were still playing every day for lengths of time.

Cataclysm, probably one of the most divisive expansions still to this day, was still exceptionally successful. Some people came back to the game just so they could fly in Azeroth – remember that – people couldn’t fly in Azeroth until Cataclysm! This was also the expansion where some classes were getting wildly revamped, and this may have led a lot of people away from the game. I confess I stopped playing my ret pally and hunter at this time.

Mists of Pandaria seemed to come out of left freaking field. I actually laughed when I saw the trailer for it. Fucking pandas? This is a joke, right? Is it April 1? No? Well, fuck me. But then Blizzard went to the playbook of video game dev fundamentals: create zones with blue skies. Think about it. You’re playing a game for 3 hours (or more) at night. Want to stare at black skies with gray rock underneath or blue skies with green grass underneath? I’ll take blue skies every day of the week and twice on Sundays. MoP, ironically, became one of my favorite expansion.

Then came Warlords of Draenor and the invention of the garrison. It was and still is one of the most bass-ackwards decisions Blizzard ever made. I can just picture their brainstorming session for this expansion going something like this:

“You know what we should do? We should take a massively multiplayer online game and make it so they can’t be in the same place at the same time.”

“That’s a great idea, Bill! Let’s do it!”

At least garrisons led to Legion’s class halls, and that was something I could get behind. Wait – I need to go back to that fake conversation again. This time the conversation is taking place in a coder’s cubicle where two friends are ready to go to Chotchkies.

“Hey – did you hear that garrisons fucking blow and we’re removing them in Legion?”

“Yeah – fuck Bill.”

“Yeah – fuck Bill.” (This was the first guy talking.)

Legion has its moments. The patches are weaving together more nicely than in previous expansions. Although the amount of PvE needed to unlock dailies is still ridiculous (unless I’ve missed something in the past few months).

Now we get to look forward to Battle for Azeroth. I’m stoked – and mainly because my brain is connecting Battle for Azeroth with the Classic server. If I have to buy the expansion for it, then that’s ok. I’ll pony up the dough.

I’m actually looking forward to receiving answers to the myriad questions placed upon the developers right now. Below are my favorite questions that I look forward to seeing answered.

  1. Will bandages still be a viable option for “oh shit I need a heal” in dungeons? Think about how many times a rogue was off in the corner of a boss fight fucking bandaging. “Where’s the rogue!? Oh, using a mageweave bandage outside of line of sight. Fan-tastic.”
  2. Are class-specific tasks still going to be around? For example, will hunters need to feed pets and make sure the pet’s happiness level is high enough? Will warlocks need to fill their entire bagspace with 37 soul shards? Will paladins need to stack reagents for Blessing of Kings and whatnot? These are important questions! Well not really, but they are in my head at least.
  3. Are flight plans going to be connected to each other, or are we going to need to click on individual locations along the route? Remember how long it took to fly from Stranglethorn Vale all the way to Menethil Harbor? Remember how long that took when you couldn’t even fly direct? That’s like watching a 6-year-old pick up a Gameboy. I felt like Gunter from Beerfest watching the bird pop out of the clock.
  4. Will Blizzard introduce more quests? This is pretty self-explanatory. I’d love to see what I’ll describe as side-lore. I don’t want a whole new story, but some more story I’ll sure take.
  5. This is kind of in the spirit of number 2. Can we stack food and potion buffs? Remember creating low level food items just for the +1 stam, +3 stam, and so on? Or stacking level 1 health stones, level 2 health stones, and so on? So much grinding for one stat point increase. But hey, it was fun. Ok it was rigorous and not so fun, but I’m waiting to see how this plays out.

As stated by J. Allen Brack in this Eurogamer piece, “Some of the reason for why we’re not ready to talk about that is… we actually don’t know yet.”

I get it. And when the Classic server launches, I’ll get that too.





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