It’s a term that gets thrown around a fair bit, but few video games can actually be labelled as truly ground-breaking. Games that would go on to define genres, attracting tens of millions of players, forever changing the design and discourse around games as an interactive medium. Not one person could question World of Warcraft’s importance and its lasting impact on the gaming industry as a whole.
Although certainly not the first massively multiplayer online roleplaying game, Blizzard’s take on the genre landed at exactly the right time. It was better polished and far more accessible than earlier MMOs such as EverQuest and Ultima Online, though it borrowed heavily from its forebears. When it eventually released in 2004, World of Warcraft was met with universal critical acclaim, paving the way for positive word of mouth and a whirlwind ascension that would climax with a staggering 12 million actively subscribed players.
However, after fifteen years, the game has changed considerably. Azeroth itself has been scarred, reshaped and expanded, key characters have risen and fallen through the regular churn of sizeable updates and even bigger expansions.
After getting sucked into World of Warcraft in 2006, I was there for the arrival of The Burning Crusade. The sheer excitement for this first expansion was astronomical, but it also set a precedent. In order to keep WoW fresh, to keep it relevant, Blizzard continued to move the goalposts for players. While that’s great for those hardcore fans who play day in, day out, I knew I’d never be able to keep up.
That’s what’s so appealing about World of Warcraft Classic. There’s a discernible finish line with a steady re-release of classic contents, but without the threat of a new expansion dropping and potentially changing everything you know about the game.
That vanilla version has been crystallised, warts and all, and now anyone with a WoW subscription can beam themselves back to 2004 to experience the game at its purest.
Despite some hemming and hawing from Blizzard, this is clearly something a considerable number of players have wanted. The company shut down the fan operated vanilla servers only to relent and announce the creation of its own official client. The initial reception has been overwhelming. Twitch viewers have clocked millions of hours watching World of Warcraft Classic already and server queues can often exceed an hour at peak times.
I remember the first time I set foot in Azeroth. Having cut my teeth on RuneScape for many years I’d always been fascinated with WoW and, after being handed a leaflet with a 7-day free trial from a classmate, I spent hours downloading it over my dial-up connection.
Retracing those steps after all this time is the most nostalgic I’ve ever felt about a video game. Azeroth wasn’t a level of a game I simply played through, it was virtually a second home and one that thrived with hundreds of people eager to play together or simply chat.
From my time spent with WoW Classic this past week, it’s as if those exact same people have returned after a prolonged slumber. There’s an infectious welcomeness and feeling of belonging you just don’t get in online games today.
Naturally, I was always going to roll as a Dwarf in this new playthrough, wandering the snowy plains, icy caves, and frozen lakes of Dun Morogh exactly as I had many years ago. Slaying Troggs, Boars, Trolls, and Wendigos, eventually finding my way to the capital city of Ironforge. That ascent up the mountain roads, seeing its huge gates come into view, was pure magic.
Even after my initial nostalgia trip, I continue to play WoW Classic and have cruised my way to level 25. I feel buoyed knowing that I won’t log in one day to find that the level cap has been doubled and all the mechanics and systems completely turned on their head.
Of course, Classic isn’t for everyone. Server queues aside, there are some basic quality of life improvements that wouldn’t go amiss, not to mention the sheer amount of time it takes to level up or travel anywhere, which is greatly streamlined in the modern game. Then again, that’s the entire point of Classic’s existence. Instead of chasing map icons and crossing off lists of objectives, playing World of Warcraft in this fossilised fledgling state feels like embarking on an actual adventure and one I hope to see to its end.