I don’t think anyone expected Blizzard to announce that Classic servers were in the works for World of Warcraft, but Blizzcon 2017 was full of surprises.
Blizzard have been notorious for closing down fan-run private servers for vanilla WoW and refusing to offer an alternative for years - but after the storied shutdown of Nostalrius, it appears the Warcraft team have caved to demand and are looking into offering a 2004-flavoured experience.
Sticking with modern-day WoW? Get caught up on the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth.
But rose-tinted glasses have a habit of brushing aside glaring flaws. Should a player in 2017 - who may only have started playing an expansion or two - be excited by this nostalgic offering?
World of Warcraft’s been going for well over ten years at this point, and the game as it stands in 2017 is near unrecognisable when compared to what it looked like back in 2004. The structure, the world, classes, and characters have changed dramatically in a decade, for better and for worse, and it is important with the development of an official Classic server to know what a new player is in for. Naturally, there are people nostalgic for what they see as the good old days, but vanilla wasn’t entirely the rosy experience they recall.
For starters, World of Warcraft Classic’s world is rather barren. There is almost a frontier feel to the place, with towns smaller and less populated than they are these days. Hidden valleys and clearings reveal traders tucked in the corners of the world - vital-but-obscured supply points for when travelling back to town carries grave risks.
The Cataclysm tore apart the old world, but rebuilt it with more structure and direction. With fewer hearthstone locations and flight points, charting a path through the wilderness to quest in Classic feels like more of an adventure, and unlocking parts of the map feels like real progress. Beasts and monsters are deadlier than in the current game, too, adding to the sense of excitement and danger gained from travelling the world. When you have levelled up and reached the furthest regions of the world, you truly feel the scale of your journey and a sense of conquering a dangerous land.
The early questing experience, however, is not something many people will miss from the old days - and with good reason. Quests in Cataclysm and beyond were streamlined so you always knew where to go and what to do, and you could usually count on at least a handful per hub to carry unique objectives. Vanilla Warcraft, however, really does boil down to collecting 15 bear ears more often than not - with a slim chance that the unfortunate bear will actually drop what you need.
You might even call it tedious. While the slow pace allows you to become intimately familiar with the land, it also makes levelling a slog. Even worse, you’ll often be required to bounce between zones to find quests that match your current level, necessitating long walks or flights between regions. The endgame is more complicated, too, with endless faction grinds, and the need to run full guilds of players through attunement quests to even start working on the devilish bosses of Azeroth.
It is natural to feel nostalgia for those days. That is because of the sheer amount of time needed to invest, the fact that every achievement felt hard-fought for, and every level properly earned. But World of Warcraft has become a game that wants you to see everything immediately - every raid can be done through matchmaking, and reached instantly - so it is hard to imagine going back to lengthy attunements and the sheer logistical struggle of getting 40 properly-geared raiders together weekly.
The value of Classic servers will come down to what Blizzard want to prioritise with this intriguing experiment - is the aim to conjure up players fond recollections from the old days, or recreate the full grind of Warcraft’s past?