I had always been curious about why World of Warcraft generated such fervent support. My interest piqued last year, when Blizzard consolidated all expansions into the subscription cost. Approaching summer of last year, a friend convinced me to try WoW. I was already hooked on the Tolkien-like lore, so I was excited about the prospect immersing myself in the immense wealth of story content.
However, as someone who predominantly enjoys single-player games, I don’t think that I was prepared for the experience I was about to have. I later terminated my subscription, feeling frustrated by content that I felt dismissed the levelling experience. It felt like I was being hurried to the end game, with little concern for the journey. I fled to ESO, comforted by the promise of a robust single-player experience.
In retrospect, I feel like I was transposing the expectations I have for single-player games onto something that can’t really accommodate them. Similarly, I feel that my frustration with the content was the result of my refusal to engage with the multiplayer facet of massively multiplayer online games. It took the last few weeks of playing WoW Classic for this to sink in.
Here’s how WoW Classic reshaped my appreciation for MMORPG’s!
“Wait, why can’t I summon my Voidwalker?”
“Sweet summer child,” my friends infuriatingly replied when I reasoned that my choice of Warlock is because “that’s what I know”. To be fair, that was from a position of experience and, also, their needling was somewhat merited.
Right from the off, my understanding was confounded. Retail WoW gives you everything as you level up. You just magically acquire new abilities. It’s a pretty common levelling mechanic, so I thought nothing of it. However, WoW Classic demands you learn your skills from a trainer of your chosen class. These subtle nuances are not always immediately apparent…
As I completed the ritual required to summon Voidwalker, I excitedly dismissed my imp to summon my trusty tank.
“Oh, sweet summer child…”
What the summoner didn’t tell me, is that you need soul shards. I took those for granted in Retail, because you have five, and they auto-recharge. After reading my friends irksome reply, I learned that I have to be taught a spell in order to extract the souls of enemies to later exchange as part of the summoning of voidwalker.
Things like this are part of the fun but, really, it’s something fundamental to the roleplaying experience. You have to be taught your chosen speciality by an expert in your field. This is something true to life, and I feel like it helps personify your character. It’s understandable why WoW Classic had such an vast role-playing community.
“Erm, Where Do I Go?“
Everything that WoW Classic does is intended to immerse you in the world. One of the first things that you will notice in Classic, is the absence of any quest markers. Having gotten used to compasses with destination markers, I must confess this continues to throw me. But the absence of destination markers means that you actually have to pay attention to the map – I’ve seen signposts in WoW before, but this is the first time I’ve actually used the for directions.
I’ve been in regions of Azeroth many times before, but it wasn’t until recently that I actually needed to learn their layout. This may sound frustrating, but it’s an absolutely crucial – and hugely enjoyable – part of the roleplaying experience. It grounds you in the world, and makes the world feel real and alive.
Do not use questing add-ons, you’re diminishing your experience. If you really must, use WowHeadClassic, but powering through those frustrations is really satisfying.
“That Was Fun, Thanks!”
WoW Classic has brought me into the the multiplayer facet of MMORPG’s. I’ve actually spoken to people outside my friend group and my guild. To be honest, I very seldom spoke to people in my guild, so the chances of speaking to random in retail was bordering on 0.
I spent three hours questing with a random today, after rescuing him from the bastard Scarlet crusade. That simply doesn’t happen in retail. This sort of community engagement is not something that happens by accident; it’s designed from the ground up to be a community experience. Mobs, while beatable solo, frequently drag other mobs. That leads to death. Vanilla Azeroth is safer in groups, and this has enriched my experience of the game.
It goes beyond questing though. As you may have read, people have been queuing next to the spawn points of questline bosses. This amused me at first, and it still does, but it’s a really nice thing to see everyone cooperate to make the experience enjoyable for one another.
The sense of community is also helped by WoW Classic being an entirely different beast when it comes to difficulty.
“Oh My God, the Graveyard is Too Far Away”
“Prepare to die,” is associated with Dark Souls, but seriously; prepare to die.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to run away from lowly mobs. Azeroth is not a safe place for the solo gamer, but it’s also a perilous world for groups. My group was rekd by lowly murlocks yesterday. While I was laughing by the corpses of my deceased comrades, I too was taken out by a couple of murlocks. Death by hubris…
A major consequence of death by hubris is the infuriatingly long walk back from the graveyard to the location of your body… It made me think of dungeons, and that, in Classic, you spawn at the nearest graveyard, rather than at the start of the dungeon. This can have pretty serious ramifications for your groups success in killing a boss. It also damages your loot, which I feel is far more rare and valuable in Classic.
This has a real impact on the importance of loot. Class-relevant gear doesn’t drop often, and drops that are superior to your current gear are rarer still. So, when you find something that improves your stats, it’s a massive moment.
These little moments also add to the sense of community, as I constantly see messages in general chat, from people offering to sell gear for which they have no use. This adds to the world feeling alive.
“Give Up Your Liver, God Damn It!”
I feel a little dissonant with this. Because retail is an infuriating grind fest, littered with quests requiring items that have a hilariously low drop rate. Perhaps because I’m experiencing this with friends, the hilariously low drop rate of quest items in Classic feels like a part of its charm.
As a group, we spent a solid 4 hours trying to complete 3 drop quests. I never knew boars could grow to adulthood without a liver… Normally, I feel like this may be something that I would result in me abandoning the quest, or indeed a game. For some reason though, I think this is definitely part of the fun.
Classic brings back a lot of key elements to a game that have, I think, ceased to exist in retail. Firstly, Classic implicitly enforces roleplay onto you. Little things, like having to learn your skills from a master, really sort of helps to anthropomorphise your character. As an aphantasic, I can’t picture things in my mind, so things like this really help bring characters to life for me. In a few short days, I have grown attached to Gerwin, my human warlock.
Secondly, the multiplayer facet of MMO’s is driven by design. This is something particularly true of Classic. Everything from the difficulty and perseverance of enemies, to mission structures that ultimately make soloing missions an arduous task. More importantly though, people are willingly participating. People queuing beside a boss spawn, with nobody considering queue skipping. So many times I seen someone inadvertently aggro a boss, and everyone in the vicinity rounding on it to help out the would-be victim. Chat is littered with requests to group. There’s something so nice about the cooperative nature of the world.
WoW classic did something else for me though. I used to consider the social requirements of MMO’s burdensome. Finding frustration in the demands of quests requiring grouping in retail, I switched from WoW to ESO, because the solo experience was much better. However, in playing WoW Classic, I have found myself going out of my way to team with random people to face challenges as a group.
I guess that this might seem like a small thing, but it helped formalise my understanding of the mission design, as well as giving me an appreciation of the thought that’s gone into creating a challenging experience for a group.
Through this engagement, I’ve met some acquaintances in Classic already. I often read stories of life-long friends meeting during Vanilla, but it never really occurred to me that this is the legacy of World of Warcraft – a legacy of the genre it defined.
It may have taken a year of playing MMO’s for it to happen, but I’m glad that the penny had finally dropped.
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