Returning Home: World of Warcraft Classic Comes Online

Numbers aren't allowed in names, but I tried

On August 26th, fans of the original World of Warcraft (henceforth referred to as WoW), and those who are just curious to see what all the hubbub is about, were finally able to re-experience the original game as it was when it first came online back in 2004, now colloquially known as ‘vanilla’. And boy did Blizzard deliver, complete with massive queues, disconnects, and crowding. But they have also provided what many people have been asking for for many years: The authentic and original WoW experience.

World of Warcraft was first released in 2004, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) in the vein of Everquest and Ultima Online before it. However WoW streamlined the gameplay process and created something accessible, that anyone could play, and eased players into the experience without being overwhelming. It was an instant, massive hit, and has continued to be a juggernaut even to this day. Attempts to topple it, even using popular franchises with similar gameplay such as Age of Conan and Star Wars Galaxies, couldn’t come close to WoW’s success.

In the game, there are two main factions: The Horde, comprised of Orcs, Trolls, Tauren, and the Undead, and the Alliance, comprised of Elves, Gnomes, Dwarves and Humans. Depending on your race, you could be one of several classes: A paladin, mage, warlock, rogue, warrior, priest, druid, hunter, or shaman, each with their own unique abilities and approaches to gameplay.

They don't actually allow numbers in names. But I tried!

They don’t actually allow numbers in names. But I tried!

As the years went on, WoW evolved. What started out as a world with two continents, eight races, nine classes and a tight story to tell, ended up as what many consider to be a mess in terms of overly-streamlined gameplay (e.g.: quest markers and highlighted objectives / objects), homogeneous races and classes (e.g.: many classes were limited to certain races, but now that’s generally not the case; anyone can be anything. Another example: Undead could ‘breathe’ underwater, now anyone can breathe underwater for a comically long time), and simplified specializations that don’t allow for really exploring a particular class.

Combine that with the original story of the Horde V. the Alliance morphing into them working together and sharing quests and zones, a rambling main story with red herring side quests and  endless grinding with things such as daily quests, as well as a confusing world structure (A new capital city, Dalaran, now has two separate locations in the game: One in Northrend and one in the Broken Isles. It’s the same city, but in two places, although there is lore for that), and people started to get weary.

Not that it was all bad, mind you. The ‘Mists of Pandaria‘ expansion, which introduced a continent known as Pandaria based on Chinese lore, along with a race of humanoid pandas known as the Pandaren, and the new class of monk, was very well received. Additionally, flying mounts and pets of many types became available as nice additions. But overall, the gameplay itself, the core experience, lacked.

Mists of Pandaria

Mists of Pandaria

While all this was going on, something known as private servers began to appear. These were privately run WoW servers that there recreated that original version of the game as it was when it was first released. There was no charge, and people flocked to them. The largest was Nostalrius, which at its peak had, according to Wikipedia, 800,000 subscribers and 5000 – 8000 concurrent players. Blizzard hit them with a cease & desist order, but the coverage of that was severe and intense, and it appeared that Blizzard noticed. I myself played on Nostalrius, and wished it to continue. An interesting aside about it is that when I dowloaded the client, which had to be done as a torrent, I was immediately – while the download was still happening! – sent an email from Cox telling me they had received an official complaint about my IP from Blizzard stating I was pirating the game.

But I digress. Blizard may have noticed, but also said very publicly during a live conference, that ‘you may think you want vanilla WoW, but you don’t.’ They had to eat crow on that, but they did so with grace and humility, and I respect them for being good about it.

They eventually announced that would be creating a classic WoW experience, and it finally came online August 26th, 2019.

I was excited for this too. Seeing the announcement of original WoW gave me chills. I loved original WoW, and was even in the beta so many years ago. It’s strange, because as I would read magazine articles and online posts about it, I didn’t have much interest. I heard the beta was coming and thought ‘why not?’ Well, it turned out to be lifechanging. I’ll never forget creating my first character, an undead warlock of course and of course on the server named ‘Bloodscalp,’ and venturing out into Deathknell, the undead starting zone. The purplish tint of my shadowbolt, the civilized undead, the unique, not-quite-cartoony but surprisingly colorful and detailed environments, and as I would eventually learn the incredible backstory and unique races, including the Native-American styled large bipedal bovines known as Tauren, a really unique offering for a game of this type. So much did I love it that I bought the Bloodscalp server on which I used to play when they were retired for an upgrade.

Eventually, though, after years of playing, it was sadly no longer the game I remembered. I stopped playing for a good number of years after I heard someone yelling in general chat that if they wanted to group with him for a raid, they ‘SHOULD LINE UP FOR GEAR CHECK’ and ‘DO NOT WASTE MY TIME’ and ‘KNOW YOUR ROLE AND DON’T ASK QUESTIONS.’ Remembering how the game was when it started, how everyone was incredibly helpful and pleasant, that one jackass really discouraged me, and he wasn’t even talking to me. That was after a couple of expansions had released, and for those of you familiar with the game it happened in Shattrath, a city and storyline I just could not get into anyway, and I logged off that moment and didn’t play again for five years at least.

My original Bloodscalp server. Many memories here.

My original Bloodscalp server. Many memories here.

Not only were these hardcore players becoming more common in current WoW, enemies became easy to defeat, everything is signposted, there’s no sense of accomplishment or earning your way, and the story, for me anyway, was just confusing and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Original WoW does not hold your hand in any way; it’s unforgiving, and expects you to read the quest text and figure out what to do. When it was announced, to paraphrase an infamous in-game proclamation, I was definitely prepared.

There was some drama leading up to the event that I myself was caught up in. It was announced that two weeks ahead of release, players could log in and create / name their characters. I have characters I have played with for FIFTEEN YEARS. When I logged in to create my characters on the Whitemane server, which was my server of choice as it is PvP and PST, I was hit with a 45 minute queue and by the time I managed to get in all my names were already taken! Wheels was the name I desperately wanted, and I made numerous posts on the classic WoW reddit sub and in the Whitemane server sub as well asking if the person who had it would be willing to trade or even sell, but no luck. I ended up with Kneecap, which I actually like, but it’s not Wheels.

Well, once the servers came online, while waiting in the ENORMOUS Whitemane queue (see image below), I just happened to also be in the classic WoW Discord watching the live feed of people trying to get in drama when I saw a post shoot by stating Blizzard would be bringing three new servers online, including a PST PvP server named Smolderweb. Smolderweb! I liked Whitemane, but Smolderweb was far more badass than I could have hoped, so I waited. Waited…waited…and the second it came online I pounced, created all my characters, and got all the names I wanted! I couldn’t believe my luck. There was also no login queue, I got right in and grouped up with some great people and had a blast running around the troll / orc starting area. Players even lined up for specific quest targets in a very orderly and polite way. Everything ran very smoothly, there was absolutely no lag, and I couldn’t have been happier with the experience.



The Horde are such good people. Not like the dirty Alliance.

The Horde are such good people. Not like the dirty Alliance.

To be fair, I saw posts that showed the Alliance also lined up for their quest objectives, so it was good all around.

I find it telling that even though this is no longer WoW easy mode, and that everything has to be worked for (your first ten levels will be hard, until your class specializations start to kick in, and then it will be less hard but still hard), I’ve had the most fun I’ve had in WoW for many, MANY years, and I’m very glad to be back in the world that I left so long ago.