While I do think that MMO nostalgists tend to wax a little too strongly on about how their game was SO great “back in the day” without acknowledging or remembering how crappy some of its features were and how some of the improvements that have come since were as a result of people being fed up with those elements, I can relate to the feeling at times. There’s a keen sense of loss when you realize that you can’t go back to how things used to be, no matter how much you liked them or how great they were at the time. Life and MMOs are all about changing, something that is often necessary, inevitable, and at times undesirable.
Over this past weekend a lot of players, both past and present, were evaluating the news of World of Warcraft’s fourth expansion with mixed feelings. Some are excited, some cautious, some angry, and some perplexed. I can’t see anything ever pulling me back into WoW no matter what they added or changed, so my opinion on whether or not this is a good move on Blizzard’s behalf is moot. It may be the right direction, to angle it toward a younger set (it’s hard to argue that panda-people and pokemon are the result of marketing going after older demographics) and try something more whimsical than Cataclysm’s apocalyptic bent. It may prove to be disastrous.
But for me, I’ve sent a couple moments here and there realizing that WoW is so far removed from the game I originally played as to not really be recognizable any longer. And, for better or worse, that saddens me. I’m sure a lot of the changes that have happened are for the better, and I’m certainly not saying that original vanilla WoW was far superior. But it was a fun ride, especially in that first year or so when it was brand-new, when we put up with all of Blizzard’s stumblings because we were instantly addicted, and when it felt slicker than anything else we’d seen. The “we” there is the royal We, by the way. I speak just for myself.
The WoW of 2004 would simply not recognize the WoW of today, except for the character creation screen and its still stupidly limited visual choices. The pace of leveling was much slower, the world (at least, to me) felt huge and often very dangerous, and hitting milestones like level 40 and 60 were major accomplishments instead of Hour Two speedbumps on your way to 90. I know with games like EverQuest, there have been efforts to try to recreate the original feel and progression as much as possible, but even with that, it’s not really the same as having been there when it happened. MMOs are more than just patch notes and expansions, they’re also about community and culture. When I (slightly) mourn the loss of WoW circa 2004, I more mourn the loss of its culture than the actual version of the game itself.
You can’t go back. It is just how it is. You also can’t fight the moonlight. Trust me, I’ve tried.