Ah, Nostalrius’ shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of registered accounts, with a high percentage of them being active players, wiped away by a copyright strike. Don’t get me wrong: it is vital for a company to defend its product, but it was likewise inevitable that disappointed players would need a replacement. While other private servers are attempting to capitalize on this opportunity, the announcement of an official counterpart has pushed them to the background. Although WoW Classic represents Blizzard’s solution to this unfulfilled market, can it succeed? Moreover, is it even possible to recreate the Vanilla experience?
Before considering any answers to these questions, one should take a moment to grasp just how amazing this all is. A fifteen-year-old game has such strong pull that it has convinced a massive studio to actually bring it back in its original form. Just a few expansions ago—which doesn’t feel like a long time—this would have seemed unthinkable. Blizzard has been understandably silent about the topic, always disclosing the bare minimum of information. However, a project like this represents a step into uncharted territory; it’s hard to blame them.
Finding a Direction
To recreate this peak of WoW’s history, one must first solve the monumental task of figuring out what made it so great. Simply slapping a v1.12 client onto a server and letting players have their way with it would leave every party dissatisfied: the entire World of Warcraft has changed, and players with it. Teenagers of the time who, say, spent ages trying to figure out where in the world Mankrik’s wife was, are now functional adults. Over the years, developers have simplified and changed the base game to the point that it doesn’t play anything like what it used to be. This doesn’t imply that the new product is worse for it, only that it has changed.
A player from Vanilla would feel completely out of place in the new world. Instead of having to look for a group, LFG does that for him. Levelling a character? Streamlined and completely soloable. Questing? Now with objective wayfinders!
There is no gauge to measure how game changes impact the “magic” of play. Most players concur on being nostalgic about the early days, but the matter remains extremely subjective. This fact becomes a problem when developers set themselves to bringing WoW Classic to light. Right now, it’s nothing but a primordial soup which everyone projects their memories of Vanilla onto. Therefore, as it takes shape, some will find that the new product doesn’t quite match their memories.
And this isn’t even considering entirely new players! How will Blizzard cater for those who joined much later in WoW’s life? What about people who missed the original experience and are getting a subscription just for Classic? There’s a ridiculous amount of questions that designers will have to find the right answer to, showing the deceptively massive size of this project.
All this doesn’t imply that this idea is doomed from the start, but the studio sure has its work cut out. Even so, getting Classic’s launch right is merely the beginning: after they recreating peak of WoW’s original adventure, how will they handle content progression? We know that from the starting point there are more massive raids to be re-released, but what after them?
Let’s hope community feedback can help the team with this arduous task.
Of course, gamers who purchased a virtual ticket actually had a chance to get their hands on a Classic prototype around last BlizzCon. Blizzard allowed testers to pick any of the original races and classes, and have a go at either Westfall or the Barrens between levels 15 and 19. From a technical standpoint, it was a perfect recreation. However, when considering the community aspects that made the real thing feel like it did, well…
From that point of view, the demo never really stood a chance. A community builds itself through the sincere perspectives of thousands of players interacting with each other, while this was more akin to tourists having a jeep ride through Jurassic Park. It’s okay though: the experience didn’t attempt to be the former, rather a test run that might provide useful information to developers and a fun time for nostalgic veterans.
It’s far, far too soon to make any actual predictions about the success WoW Classic might enjoy. In addition, there are many ways it could go wrong but, deep down, we all hope that Blizzard manages to pull through. Though gaming studios have never attempted a restoration project on this scale before, the hearts of many players still lie within the adventurous field of the original Azeroth.