World of Warcraft Classic is a great game

World of Warcraft Classic brought 2004 back with a bang last week, as players flooded the servers to play the original, vanilla-flavored World of Warcraft, creating queues of tens of thousands of players and leaving the modern game feeling like a comparative ghost town. World of Warcraft changed the world. There are no two ways about it. Blizzard put itself on the map with real-time strategy games Starcraft and Warcraft and captivated RPG fans with Diablo, proving its ability to create long-lasting games outside of the then infantile MMO genre. What they found was, much like the queues, a near-authentic World of Warcraft launch experience. This is a recreation, of course, not the real thing. The engine driving Classic is based on the modern game, not the 2004 original, with the vanilla graphics and gameplay systems bolted on top. It looks and plays like that launch version of the game, but it should run significantly better. By wrapping years of lore around vast environments, Blizzard brought all those players and more together with a strikingly deep recreation of a fictional world. Azeroth was truly born in 2004, and only by growing over the next 15 years have we been allowed to experience its birth yet again with World of Warcraft Classic.

Players often actively avoided looting anything they killed when the game launched in 2004, due to the amount of time they would have to spend sliding across the ground in the looting position as the game struggled to keep up with its players. The most laggy areas in Classic remain more or less playable, even with thousands of players. There might be a delay before an item is transferred into your bags or a quest giver coughs out their lines, but the game has been playable despite the early crowds … once you’ve managed to get in, of course. The most important thing to say about World of Warcraft Classic is that the art, quest text, and NPCs are exactly the same as I remember from the original launch, warts and all. Even the original bugs have been preserved. The whole thing runs better, which is a welcome improvement, but the game itself is as close to the original as possible. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for 15 years now, and was afraid that the original game would be too easy. But the opposite is true; I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Classic’s difficulty. Gameplay systems are at once simpler than in modern World of Warcraft — there is less to worry about during battles, such as interrupts, purges/dispels, or movement to avoid abilities in the original game — and more complex when it comes to things like choosing talents. Killing things is downright hard in the beginning, which is exactly as I remember it. Monsters hit harder, for starters, and they don’t scale, so they frequently outlevel you. Hit rating is back, and it makes a meaningful difference in whether you’re even able to connect with your target at all. Your character, in general, will be much easier to kill than what you’re used to from the modern game. The first version of World of Warcraft was hard, and it remains so today, even if you know what to expect. Other players in chat frequently crow about the many ways in which this memory of World of Warcraft is different than the modern version of WoW, typically siding with Classic. Everything is exactly the same as it was, they say, and that’s the way they like it. But truthfully, one element has changed dramatically: the players themselves. Many of these players were kids, relatively speaking, back in 2004. Now, many of them have kids of their own. When areas got too crowded on some WoW Classic servers for players to get the kills they needed for quests this week, they literally queued up in game, forming a line so that each person could get the monsters they needed in turn. There was some sense that giving up a bit of freedom so that everyone could have a good time was the right thing to do. That’s adult behavior, seeking to create order out of chaos, and it was nowhere in evidence 15 years ago.

We were all younger then, the game was new, and, well, if your hunter could hit a target faster than my priest, you generally got it, and too bad for me. Pure Darwinism has been traded for something that almost looks like culture and rules, if you squint at it. Most players seem to want everyone to have as good a time as they’re having, at least at launch. World of Warcraft game director Ion Hazzikostas told me before launch that he expected the total number of active users on realms with 30,000 or more players to shrink to a single “layer” of a few thousand before phase 2 even launches in a few weeks. Clearly, Blizzard bet that for many, the nostalgia and the willingness to devote the extensive time it takes to progress in the game would lose their luster fairly quickly. But this still all makes sense from a business perspective. Blizzard knew that nostalgia would bring players back in droves; so many of us are reliving some of our favorite times with the game, which helps the brand and may lead to players rejoining the modern game. That $15 a month is revenue, regardless of whether it’s used to play WoW Classic or current WoW, and a single subscription gives you access to both. Anecdotally, I’ve seen hundreds of players who’ve said they re-upped their subscriptions just for this. I’ve also chatted with several people in the past week, in real life, who told me they signed up for World of Warcraft for the first time to play Classic, because it was what all their friends were doing.

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