A few weeks ago, Blizzard released the long-awaited World of Warcraft: Classic - a throwback to the early days of WoW, warts and all. Until that point, I had never played World of Warcraft. Roughly 2 weeks in, my Orc Hunter, Orcthisway, is sitting at level 31 and I am thoroughly addicted.
So, what took me so long? I'd never been a fan of subscription-based MMOs. I hated the idea of paying to keep playing a game. However, after a lot of persuasion from friends, I gave it a shot. I paid for a month's subscription to try Classic out. I've not touched the modern version, referred to as "retail" WoW, but will likely do so in the not-too-distant future. The following will be a series of rambling thoughts on Classic and it's design.
I had a little bit of help from a friend in grasping the basics, navigating the UI, and so on. "Intuitive" is not a word I'd use to describe Classic. It's of an era where RPGs required the player to read quest information and figure things out for themselves, rather than the modern standard of "follow the quest marker". Now, there's nothing wrong with quest markers, but I personally find the over-reliance most modern RPGs have on them to be a little too much. Hand-holding throughout the opening of a game is fine, but when you're max level and a master of the combat system, having the game point you in the right direction feels very patronizing. I often turn quest markers off when I play RPGs I'm familiar with, so I found Classic to be oddly refreshing in the sense that the only directional markers you get are to the nearest settlements (and your allies, if you're in a group). Markers for finishing quests only appear on the mini-map when you're nearby, and the only other markers are from abilities you have to track certain enemies or harvestable materials. You want to know where monster X that you need item Y from is? Read the quest log and figure it out. Can't figure it out? I guess Google is your friend, right? I love this kind of design. Yes, it can get frustrating, but it makes it all the more rewarding when you finally get it done. And the reading leads to actually learning more about the world than you would if you were simply told a few things and led around. The writing is pretty good, and I'm enjoying learning about the war between the Alliance and Horde. There's some nice humour in there, to boot.
Leveling is SLOW. It's been around two weeks and I'm level 31. The level cap is 60, so I might hit that by the end of the month - if I'm lucky. Unlike a lot of other MMOs, you have to mob-grind: kill as many enemies as you can on the way to your next quest, and you'll have an easier time leveling up. The majority of enemies that are around your level are capable of killing you fairly easily if you're not careful. I enjoy this challenge. It makes the enemies feel tough, and you not feel all-powerful. Grouping up to take down tougher "elite" enemies and bosses is essential, but if you're trying to get a particular item to drop, you're going to have a hard time. Loot is shared rather than individual, and unless the rest of your group has already got the items you need, you've got to rely on often low drop rates to get them. The only exceptions are bosses and certain items, where the whole group will get them from the same enemy. XP is only given from enemies that you or your group hit first - if a random passerby hits (or "tags") the enemy you're after before you do, you're gonna have to wait for it to respawn, or find another. Speaking of respawning, the timers for some bosses are painful. Some enemies take 10-15 minutes to respawn, which slows your progress right down. If you're after a boss and someone's just killed it, go make a coffee or something. You'll still be waiting by the time you're back. I get why Blizzard did this - to slow players down so they don't burn through all the content too quickly - but holy shit, it can be tedious sometimes.
Getting around is also very slow. Be prepared to walk a LOT. Flying from one area to another (once you've unlocked the flight paths) can take quite some time, as well. It's another of those "go make a coffee or something" moments. I suppose it's a good thing, as it gives you an opportunity to take a break, but if you're just trying to meet up with your friends, it can be pretty boring - especially if you're trying to fly somewhere to get to the ships or zeppelins that take you to different regions, then flying even farther once you get there. Thankfully, mages can teleport and every character gets a Hearthstone, which teleports you to whichever inn you've set as your home. Mounts are available at level 40 for a hefty fee, which cut down on some travel time, and some classes get abilities that speed you up - the hunter, for example, gets a 30% speed increasing ability. This reduces some of the travel time, but it's still very slow to get around. It's amazing what you take for granted in modern games. Classic just says, "Fast travel? What's that?".
You might think I'm complaining, but honestly I absolutely love this game. Yes, the game is slow and can be very dull at times, but roaming around an unforgiving world, slowly killing one enemy at a time in the hopes that you get the items you've been searching hours for, is a challenging and rewarding experience, and an absolute breath of fresh air in an age where everything is practically given to you on a silver platter. You have to earn those levels, your mounts, etc. and it feels so damn rewarding when you level up... only to have to go back to your class trainer to spend the majority of your money on new abilities. WoW Classic is a rough place, but somehow I still absolutely love it. I've not been gripped by an MMO this much in a very long time. I look forward to when I'm done and move on to retail WoW, where I'll no doubt have my hand held and level much faster, but the world and it's lore has sucked me in. It only took fifteen years for it to finally do so.