When Blizzard released the Cataclysm expansion, it changed the World of Warcraft setting forever. All the original zones changed in significant ways, old quests were replaced by new ones, and a completely new storyline would guide players through a ravaged Azeroth. As such, the original World of Warcraft experience was lost forever... or so we thought. After years of players asking for a way to replay "Vanilla WoW", Blizzard finally decided to oblige, and today marks the release of World of Warcraft: Classic.
To celebrate the launch, Blizzard was kind enough to allow us an interview with senior software engineer Omar Gonzalez, who was able to clear up several of our questions and shared some of the reasoning behind the revival of Vanilla World of Warcraft.
"If I had to point to something that switched over, we understood for a long time that we couldn't release the old version as is, it simply wouldn't work in the way we run our online servers today. What we were able to do was spend a little bit of time in a completely new approach, by taking our old content and layering it on top of our brand new system. Once we had a rough idea of how that would go, we gained a lot of confidence that we had a path forward, and that's actually what led to a greenlight on World of Warcraft: Classic. We can deliver everything the players remember - all the old quests, the old talents, the old systems, the old world, as you remember it, but in our modern servers."
You don't have to buy World of Warcraft: Classic, but you do have to pay for a subscription - a shared subscription, as Omar told us.
"There is only one World of Warcraft subscription, and that subscription allows you to play both Battle for Azeroth [the newest expansion, plus all the previous content], and World of Warcraft: Classic. We want players to play the experience they want, without any sort of barriers between the two, but we also encourage them to check out and try the other one. As such, we're not worried WoW: Classic could eventually cannibalise modern WoW, as that is one of the benefits of having a shared subscription. As long as your playing World of Warcraft, we're happy to see you enjoying yourselves."
A lot happened between the original WoW launch and the first expansion, The Burning Crusade. PvP systems were added, new raids tested players resilience, and characters were balanced, but how will all that come into play in WoW: Classic? Via six different phases of content updates.
"All the original content in World of Warcraft: Classic will be opened up in this sort of phased roll-out. There's going to be six phases of content: the first phase will include Molten Core and Onyxia raids, plus Maraudon dungeon. When we're ready to open up phase two, that phase will include the world bosses Kazzak and Azuregos, the PvP [honour] system, and the Dire Maul dungeon. Phase three will see the opening of Blackwing Lair and two of our battlegrounds, Alterac Valley and Warsong Gulch. Phase four will see the third battleground, Arati Basin, plus the green dragons and the Zul'Gurub raid. On phase five we're going to see the Ahn'Qiraj war effort, including gathering up all the materials, the ring of the dong that opens up the flood gates insects, that we hope everyone will login and enjoy seeing. Once those gates are open you will have access to the two Ahn'Qiraj raids, Ruins of Ahn'Qiraj and Temple of Ahn'Qiraj. The sixth and final phase will be the Scourge invasion and the Naxxramas raid. As for plans after that, we don't have anything concrete to announce, but as this is a very community-driven project, we want to hear from the fans how they what to see the game go."
"Regarding classes states, all of our data for World of Warcraft: Classic is going to be based on WoW's patch 1.12, and that includes the state of all the talents, spells, plus diminishing returns."
Moreso than current WoW, the original experience allowed for some great player-driven events, like the Southshore and Tarren Mill battles, or the infamous Barrens chat. We asked Omar if he thinks those events will repeat themselves in WoW: Classic.
"I think they will repeat themselves, and I think we will see a bunch of new ones. One of the things we're really excited about World of Warcraft: Classic, is that this is a big open world that players are free to explore, and we can't wait to see what our community will come up with next.
"I think a big story-teller in World of Warcraft is you, the player. Because this is such a big open world, you kind of have control over your own story and how you progress in the world. You can be an active participant in telling the story of your own story, as you play through the different zones and content."
WoW has evolved considerably over the years, in terms of quest design, world design, user-friendly options, systems, and structure. Considering all that, we wondered if players really can go back to the original WoW experience?
"We certainly hope so. As you pointed out, World of Warcraft: Classic does offer a different play-style than Battle for Azeroth, as it is more challenging and difficult. The world itself is a sort of character that you'll have to take on, but along with that we also hope that encourages social interaction, as a lot of this content you can't easily do on your own. We hope players will reach out, make new friends and new social connections. It's in these bonds between players that we really find some of the most compelling gaming experiences."
Gonzalez also confirmed that players won't be able to transfer characters or guilds from WoW: Classic to the modern game, as they want to keep both experiences separate. Lastly, but not least, we were assured players should be able to use most Battle for Azeroth add-ons in WoW: Classic, as they share the same application programming interface (API).
World of Warcraft: Classic is now live, and we will be diving into its retro content to bring you a nostalgia-filled review in due course.