World of Warcraft Classic, the “new” version of World of Warcraft that recreates the original experience when the popular massively multiplayer online RPG launched almost 15 years ago, is at once perfectly familiar — and yet, at its core, it feels like a different game than modern Warcraft.
WoW Classic releases on August 27. Stress tests, which start May 22, will allow more players to experience the beta server for themselves.
(Public service announcement: People invited to the Classic beta report not getting any emails. So if you’re an active WoW player that has opted into beta tests, check the account drop-down on your Battle.net launcher to make sure “Beta: WoW Classic” isn’t already on the list.)
I received a beta invite for Classic, and had also been an alpha and beta tester for the original game 15 years ago. That isn’t unique; plenty of people in Northshire Valley had had the same experience, suggesting to me that active players who were Day 1 WoW gamers or had participated in the original tests might have gotten priority invitations to this one.
I recreated my very first character — a human warrior, because in the last-push alpha test I joined in 2004, there was no Horde — and logged in. Immediately, I was surprised by how good the graphics actually looked, for being 15 year old textures-on-polygons. Warcraft’s bright colors and cartoony aesthetic continue to this day, so all the increased resolution and better-contoured characters in Lordaeron don’t really change the game’s visual aesthetic.
Plenty of gameplay things have changed — more on that in a minute — but one thing almost immediately transformed the game for me. I was killing my fourth Kobold Vermin (sorry guys, I’m taking those candles) by auto-attacking it and waiting impatiently for my lone ability to light up, when it struck me: This was going to be slow. Really, really slow. And, after another minute, I realized that was okay.
It was the first time in a decade that I wasn’t gunning for the end game, pillaging the beta test to determine the fastest way to level and get to the “good stuff,” and tweaking my add-ons to skip as much content as I could to get there. I even read a quest or two, though I admit to using the option (still available, even in vanilla) to turn off the line-by-line scrolling of quest text.
I’ve been privately snarky about Classic. Blizzard Entertainment president J. Allen Brack at one point (before he was president) famously said that people who said they wanted Classic didn’t really want what they thought they wanted. I agreed.
The original WoW was painful. Mobs took forever to die; one additional enemy in a fight was a pain, two probably meant death. There was a ton of running. Most buffs lasted two minutes, many took reagents, abilities were trained and often out of reach if you lacked the necessary gold. Warlocks had to farm shards, hunters had to carry ammo — even my warrior did, since in vanilla WoW she can carry a bow and fire arrows herself.
It was slow. Damned slow. And inconvenient. And in Classic, it still is, and I’m gradually starting to think that maybe…. maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
If the end game feels miles away, and min-maxing is difficult because frankly, you’re gonna take what you get and like it, then the focus of the game changes completely. Suddenly it’s about the experience of leveling again, and hanging out with friends, and chatting with people in Goldshire (well, for purely innocent reasons anyway — the Moon Guard server’s Goldshire crew still does plenty of chatting).
There are a ton of caveats here. I’m in my first night of a new thing, and that always adds a rosy glow. It’s a beta test, and apparently a very small one at that, which means that people are (as in most closed Warcraft beta tests) friendlier, more mature and more invested in their fellow man.
But after almost two years of privately rolling my eyes anytime someone said “Classic,” I’m starting to think there’s a there, there.
As someone who’s leveled enough Alliance and Horde characters to fill multiple accounts, it remains to be seen whether replaying content I’ve seen many times before will keep my attention in the long term. But even the thought that it might suggests that for many people, this could represent a novel experience compared to the modern game, something at least worth a try.