World of Warcraft Classic: Torn between two eras

Having both an old and modern version of an MMORPG up and running offers a lot of unique opportunities for comparison. But if I may be permitted to whine for just a moment, it’s the fact that neither of them are offering exactly what I’d love to be experiencing right now. It’s a Goldilocks conundrum.

Modern WoW is really solid in a lot of ways, full-featured, lots of content, all of the races and classes, tons to do, etc. But man, that endgame is the pits. I haven’t even been back for the visions and legendary cloak thing, and I can tell you that seeing yet another pointless grind for gear that we’re just going to ditch soon is beyond non-motivating.

WoW Classic offers a tougher, slower experience that does a lot to respark those old nostalgic memories. It makes drops feel meaningful and streamlines the game to feel more immediate and immersive. Yet that endgame is also the pits. If I hit level 60, I can’t see having anything to do with my character other than mothball her.

The “just right” solution may, in fact, be a Burning Crusade or Wrath server — more content, but still of an older era with talent trees and none of this goofy artifact/heart grinding. I’m sure there was just as much spinning wheels at high levels, but to me, it seems more manageable… and more “World of Warcrafty” than what we have now.

But for the time being, my sessions in WoW Classic are more relaxing, zen-like adventures that involve a lot of running and slow questing. The other day I was doing the level 20 Warlock quest, which sent me from Stormwind to (why not) the Barrens. THAT was well-thought out by devs, let me tell you. It’s a good run if you like dying and feeling like you’re the odd gnome out in the middle of a deep Horde territory, but for me it was mostly a half-hour to watch an episode of The Office while trying to get from Point A to B.

I can already see how a lot of the initial appeal of making a character on this server starts to wear off at this level. The first 20 levels are full of discovery and great growth — faster levels, talent points, bag space, setting stuff up, getting established, revisiting those cherished beginner zones. There’s still advancement and some significant milestones ahead, particularly at the 10-level marks, but it’s not quite as meaningful as before. That’s where having a strong endgame serves as motivation to get there, but when there is none that interests you, then… I guess you’re just in it for the journey. And how long can that last?

WoW Classic: Azerothian photographer

When you’ve done content so many times in an MMO, then you have to entertain yourself however you can. That might mean trying out some new class or crafting skill, exploring more, or (in my case) taking lots of pictures of WoW Classic. As incredibly pretty as the live game is, there’s still a lot of beautiful scenes that I keep stumbling across in Classic — such as this shot of Lakeridge above. I thought it looked very peaceful, up until that named boar behind me two-shotted me.

And while the characters definitely look more crude than in the live game, you’d be surprised at what some lighting might do to soften the hard lines. My character up there honestly looks like the 2020 version to my eyes.

To get my staff skill, I had to make the horrendously long run/boat ride to Darnassus. On the way, I got this picture of a tree-lighthouse that I thought was cute.

WELCOME TO STORMWIND! CHECK OUT OUR UNDERPITTIES!

Speaking of familiar sights, Goldshire inn — that wretched hive of ERP — looked so pretty with the light and shadows of the trees rippling down on it.

Here’s a fun way to traverse Elwynn Forest: Take the cannon from Darkmoon Faire. At least it shaved off like 30 seconds from my run, and I got to enjoy a brief bout of flying in Classic.

As for progress, I’m taking my time and definitely not going that fast. At the time of this writing, I’m level 18 and have done a couple of Deadmines runs while more-or-less sticking to a Classic quest walkthrough guide. My Warlock’s build isn’t going to shape up until level 40 or so, but I’m still having fun making money and grinding mobs while exploring this old-is-new-again world.

WoW Classic: The pitter-patter of little feet

I guess my self-imposed exile from World of Warcraft ended the other day as I found myself stumbling into WoW Classic due to a desire to… I don’t know? I guess I’m craving that old fashioned MMORPG experience, and as much as I’m getting it from LOTRO, it’s nice to have some variation.

Instead of picking up a previous character, I started over on Alliance with a Gnome Warlock. She kind of has this deer-caught-in-headlights look, but it’s her dark magic that counts. The Warlock always seems like a very safe choice with the legacy version of the game, with its greater survivability and wide toolset. Plus pets. Plus, Gnome!

You know you’re deep in Gnome country when you’re fighting trolls and some rando Gnome runs up and — instead of helping — does his weird little Gnome dance for your battle entertainment.

I quickly got to work getting through the newbie area (which, let’s be honest, I could probably do with my eyes closed). It’s always thrilling to start out with so very little and realize that you have to make your way with money, bags, spells, and all the rest. I was a little bummed that no 6-slot bags dropped that first night, but it’s OK. I shall prevail.

This area more than any other in the game holds such a wealth of nostalgia for me. For little moments here and there, I’m transported back to the wonder that I felt in 2004, that excitement over finally being able to get into this MMO. This was the first place I ever saw, and the snowy valley feels like home because of it. Even with the cruder graphics, there’s still a beauty when it’s all taken together, so great props to Blizzard’s art team back in the day.

It was a slower pace of combat, but I enjoyed pushing myself to nail down the best beginner rotation. I made it a priority to get the imp pet ASAP — which I thought was at level 6 but I got here at level 3 so what do I know? — and then began pulling two to three mobs at a time. The only time I died that first night was when the cave boss spawned on top of my head when my pet was dead and I was low on mana.

In a stroke of great fortune, I stumbled into a welcoming and friendly guild almost from the get-go. It’s not a huge guild, but there were a dozen on of varying levels (no greater than 38) all chatting about this and that. Hogger runs and gold generation and the like. The guild master and I bonded over our notions of superiority (both of us being Gnome Warlocks).

Long term goals? Eh, I’m not setting them. Thinking of the endgame in WoW Classic is a non-starter for me; there’s very little waiting for me at level 60 other than to just get to level 60. But at the very least, I can consider the journey a possible hedge against a future Burning Crusade/Lich King server that allows for transfers. That’s a weird long shot, but at the very least I should have some fun in the meantime.

Did WoW Classic prime me for Burning Crusade Classic?

With a strong launch last year and at least decent numbers propping it up right now, World of Warcraft Classic looks here to stay. But Blizzard only has so many cards to pull out of its hat to supply content for it before running out of rehashing vanilla patches. Then… what?

While there’s the possibility of developing brand-new content for the Classic servers, that raises a host of issues and may be too expensive and difficult. Far easier, conventional wisdom says, would be to create a third version of World of Warcraft that offered The Burning Crusade (or, possibly, leap-frogged that expansion and went right to the fan-favorite Wrath of the Lich King).

Rumors and rumblings suggest that a TBC server is in the making. At BlizzCon last fall, the Q&A panel asked the crowd if they wanted such classic servers (to approving roars), and a little over a week ago, Blizz rolled out a Classic PTR for… something.

I got to say that my month or so of playing WoW Classic last fall wasn’t wasted effort. For one thing, I enjoyed myself more than I thought, going back to the WoW I semi-forgot from 2004. For another thing, it made me realize that there’s fun and enjoyment in older versions of MMOs than the latest and greatest. Ultimately, Classic really primed me for an expansion-era server.

Wrath would be ideal (more content, Death Knight, plus TBC), but if Blizzard is going this route eventually, it’d be stupid not to do Burning Crusade first to make more money. It wasn’t the best expansion, but you know what? It was amazing at the time and still has better content offerings than much of mid-to-late game WoW Classic. The questing was better, there was more to do at endgame, the dungeons were more enjoyable, and flying — as controversial as it proved to be — did transform Outland in a substantial way.

I’d be all over that if and when it does happen. I’d probably mirror my original TBC experience by rolling up a Draenei shammy on day one and then going through the whole leveling journey (especially since I didn’t finish that journey on WoW Classic). I know others are getting level 60s on WoW Classic just for the possibility of a transfer to a TBC server in the future, which isn’t a horrible idea.

Classic was great… but TBC or Wrath would be so much better. I could see wanting to exist in those worlds for a lot longer if offered the chance.

15 years of World of Warcraft

What’s that trite yearbook phrase? “What a long, strange trip it’s been!”

This past month marked the 15th anniversary of World of Warcraft’s launch in North America. It’s coming during a strange year of ups (World of Warcraft Classic) and downs (financials, #BoycottBlizzard). While it’s being marked by media, gamers, and in-game activities, the 15th anniversary still seems rather subdued compared to the big hubaballo that took place at the 10th.

It doesn’t feel like WoW’s launch was yesterday; it feels like it was forever ago. The Syp from 2004 was in a much different place than the Syp in 2019. In 2004 I was 28 years old and had just proposed to my soon-to-be wife. I was still living alone in an apartment that was oddly kid-free. I wasn’t blogging back then, I wasn’t writing for Massively (which didn’t exist until 2007 anyway), I hadn’t gone back to school for my Masters, and my online gaming experience was rather limited and focused.

Back then, I played a lot of single-player RTS and RPG games. I had dabbled in Anarchy Online, but City of Heroes was where my passion was for most of 2004. I was growing more enthusiastic about MMORPGs, which was partially fueled by the lead-up to World of Warcraft over the 2003-2004 period. I remember pouring over articles and forum posts about this upcoming title, salivating over the stylized graphics and the player friendly nature of the gameplay.

I put in a couple of weeks into the beta in November 2004, mostly because I couldn’t wait any longer. You can best believe it that I was there right on launch day, too. I drove over to Best Buy and picked up a Collector’s Edition right off the shelf, not knowing that the silly pet I’d get from that CE would be hanging around with me in 2019 when WoW Classic launched.

The first few months were incredibly unstable. It was a crap shoot every day whether or not I’d be able to get onto a server to play. But I don’t remember raging at the delays; I was just incredibly glad to have some game time whenever I got it. Azeroth hooked me from the very start, and off and on, I’ve been playing in it for 15 years now.

It’s not been a perfect game, nor has Blizzard been a perfect studio. But it’s been a very *fun* experience in which I’ve met some great friends, gotten some good stories to write about, and been a reliable fallback for when I burn out in other titles.

I don’t know where I’m heading with this game in the future. Right now I’m not thinking about it too much, preferring to adventure elsewhere. But next year’s Shadowlands will be a strong siren’s call indeed, and I’m sure that this won’t be the last time I write about WoW on this blog.

BlizzCon 2019 thoughts

Both for work and personal curiosity, I watched the BlizzCon streams this past weekend. It was strange for me, personally, since I had distanced myself emotionally and mentally from Blizzard’s products, especially in light of the #BoycottBlizzard movement. But when you cover online gaming news, you go to where the news is no matter where your head space be at.

So how was it overall? Blizzard really needed a home run with this convention after the past month’s fiasco, Battle for Azeroth’s dissatisfaction, and last year’s dull convention showing. I think it got at least a solid double if not a triple, but the studio was missing that stand-on-your-feet-and-cheer moment that could have helped to really pave over the bumps of late.

Let’s start with The Apology. I honestly didn’t think Blizzard was even going to mention the whole Hong Kong thing, because Blizzard does not do humility well, but to my surprise it did just that. With protesters outside yelling for freedom and Hong Kong liberation, J. Alan Brack took to the stage and gave an apology for how he and the studio reacted last month. People have disagreed with me on Twitter about this, but I think that it was a… decent apology. Probably not sincere, probably extracted through gritted teeth. But at the very least, it was an indication that Blizzard took a serious hit over this and couldn’t afford to be so arrogant in the face of fan pushback. It will influence the decisions that the studio makes along these lines in the future.

Brack is a jerk, yes, and he and the company should have completely rescinded the punishments as a sign of good faith. That would have generated a lot of goodwill and effectively doused this issue. As it stands, people will read into the apology whatever they want because it doesn’t go far enough.

Your mileage may vary, but for me, this satisfies what I wanted to see: A somewhat contrite Blizzard that has taken a big step back from squashing opinions and free speech. It’s enough for me to end my personal boycott, although I don’t think I’ll be rushing back to World of Warcraft any time soon.

Moving on to the games:

World of Warcraft: Classic got about no real news, and no mention of a Burning Crusade/progression server. Live was all about Shadowlands, the much-rumored expansion that will delve into the afterlife zones. Maybe it’s just me, but the announcement was downright subdued compared to Battle for Azeroth’s initial reveal two years ago. No jaw-dropping cinematics or shocking feature reveals. Certainly no housing.

The level squish is of some concern. I’ve talked about this in the past, so suffice to say that my fear is that this is the easier fix than actually making levels 90-120 relevant. I’m just tired of leveling up and having no permanent benefit to show for it. If this changes it, then it has my leery support.

But… one of WoW’s greatest strengths over the past couple of expansions has been its zone designs and smaller stories, and I see hints that Shadowlands will be no different in this regard. I see places I genuinely want to visit and explore. I want to hear more about players will be given more in terms of character choice and growth. And I hope that Blizz has learned from the missteps of BfA while taking the best of that expansion and Legion going forward.

I’m also seeing Blizzard trying to iterate on what’s worked in the past and prune out what hasn’t. More character options, new skills, better options, more support for alts… yeah, this is good stuff. I’m more on board with the level squish now that we’ll have the option to start a new character and simply go through a single expansion to get from 1 to 50 and then jump into Shadowlands. That’s a great way to encourage alts and give us more ways to level.

Overwatch 2: Short of this sequel/expansion becoming a full-fledged MMO, there wasn’t much chance of this drawing my interest. It’s a colorful, personality-laden world… but it’s just not my style of gameplay. PvE story missions are a step in that direction, but it has a ways to go to being the kind of game I’d want to inhabit, not queue up for.

Diablo IV: My impression upon watching the announcement and the subsequent panel is that Blizzard wasn’t quite ready to show this game off. It really looks like it was rushed to get some sort of demo done for BlizzCon, but I would bet my wooden nickels that originally Blizz wasn’t going to reveal this until 2020. It’s bloody, it’s gritty, it’s less colorful than D3. I don’t know. It’s hard to get excited with this and without knowing more about it. We’re definitely a long way away from seeing this released — 2021 or 2022 at the very least.

Walking away from World of Warcraft

If there’s a game that you absolutely, positively can’t walk away from given a good enough reason, then you might be in the throes of an actual addiction. I feel that it’s a good inner test of priorities if I am able to disengage and walk away from whatever MMO I’m playing at the moment if the situation requires. Shows that I’m the master of the game, not that it is the master of me.

So the decision to close down my World of Warcraft account due to last week’s #boycottBlizzard movement and head on to different online pastures wasn’t as painful as I might have assumed. Maybe it was even time to put that game down for a while and explore elsewhere, especially considering how many other games have made a play for my interest.

I put the question out to Twitter about possible replacement games, just out of curiosity for what people might say, and I got the following responses:

  • Caravan Stories
  • LOTRO (which I am playing)
  • Astellia Online
  • Ryzom
  • EverQuest II
  • FFXIV
  • Star Trek Online
  • Guild Wars 2

The latter two have been on my mind lately, and so I dipped into both of them this past week, as well as geared up for some serious ArcheAge unchained. I’ll talk about all of that next week, but right now I wanted to write about what it’s like to mothball an MMO that you weren’t burning out of but decided to leave for another reason entirely.

It’s strange, because it requires a mental shift as well as a schedule change. I’m not obsessed about my games, but I am interested in them and do think about what I want to accomplish in them when I get to the last couple hours of my day. Suddenly removing WoW from that equation felt strange, especially as I was working on a few different projects in that. But again, it wasn’t painful or even that much of a sacrifice.

It even felt kind of heady to have the freedom to explore elsewhere. I’ve sometimes thought about doing a monthly rotation where there’s a new game every month, but really, I have that option now and I don’t want to pin myself down.

What I sometimes need is the motivation to get out of my MMO comfort zones and routine. That motivation can come from extraordinary circumstances, like this boycott, but more often than not I’m lured by others talking about a game, significant developments in the game itself (business model shift, relaunches, expansions), and long-simmering curiosity.

It’s like this in real life, too, when I’ve gotten too deep into my sacred routine to where I need the occasional prod to jump off the rails and do something different, something not scheduled. I don’t need to ruin my routine, but I need flexibility and a mentality that is open to something different that day so that I don’t get stale and rigid.

We’ll see where all this goes this month, but for now, I’m going to walk down some other paths with my hands in my pockets and a whistle on my lips.