World of Warcraft as it is today is a different game than when it first released in 2004. Through continuous updates, expansions, changed game mechanics and overhauls, the world of World of Warcraft has seen many changes. These updates and expansions definitely kept the game interesting, and World of Warcraft still holds the title for the world's most popular MMORPG to this day, and for good reason. However, there were always players yearning for ye olde days. These players started their own unauthorised servers with older versions of the game, known as Vanilla WoW. In 2016, Blizzard started shutting down these servers and in 2017 announced there would be an official version of classic World of Warcraft released. Better yet, it would be completely free as long as you have an active WoW subscription.
Upon release, there were immensely long queues to log into WoW Classic. Some players even reported having to wait for several hours before they could play. This in itself was already a nostalgic throwback to the early beginnings of World of Warcraft because full servers have been a problem since the start. Blizzard took the servers down for maintenance on Tuesday, however, players were still dealing with long queue times when everything came back online. When you do manage to log on, Azeroth as it once was is waiting for you to (re)explore it. As it was back in 2006 specifically, when patch 1.12 (known as 'Drums of War') was live.
The core game of WoW has been unchanged since 2004. Set in the world of Azeroth, you have two different factions (Horde and Alliance) who do not like each other all that much (PvP). You level up, learn new skills and abilities, get new gear, and eventually, you might qualify to join a raid and fight much bigger threats (PvE). Yet, there have been many significant changes to the game between then and now.
If you are familiar with the current live version of World of Warcraft - Battle for Azeroth - you will notice the differences between 'then and now' from the moment you create a character. Playable races have been narrowed down to the original four from each faction; Dwarves, Gnomes, Humans, and Night Elves for Alliance, and Orcs, Trolls, Tauren and Undead for Horde. Similarly, classes have been pushed back from a dozen to nine with Paladins limited to Alliance and Shamans limited to Horde. The highest level you can achieve in Classic is level 60 as opposed to level 120 in Battle for Azeroth.
The classic 'Talent Trees' are also back, giving players up to 51 points to spend on talents that can improve existing abilities or stats (such as weapon skill), give new functionality to abilities, or even brand new abilities themselves. It's up to you how to spend these points, and you can divide them evenly among specialisation trees, or fully invest in a tree to get the final special ability at the end. Before you learn anything new or if you want to make any changes, you must seek out your Class Trainer. This means spending points willy-nilly and changing talents on the fly is no longer an option - you must choose wisely.
Going back in time means the map is significantly smaller; continents later introduced to the game are gone, and the world has not (yet) felt the wrath of the Lich King or been turned to ruin by Deathwing. Much to our delight, the original lands have come back with the original soundtracks too. The smaller map does not mean that getting around is easier - in fact, it is now much, much more time-consuming. Over the years, Blizzard has made it easier for players to get around; you can purchase a cheap mount early on in the game and there are many connecting points for fast travel. World of Warcraft: Classic offers no such luxury and your character will be running a lot because you need to wait until you've hit level 40 before you can and even think about buying a mount. Even then you might not be able to purchase one just yet because trusty steeds don't come cheap! Speaking of which, making poor financial decisions is something you should avoid in Classic altogether. Making money is relatively easy in Battle for Azeroth, but Classic will definitely put the grind back in your daily grind. Yes, we ended up being 'that guy' who couldn't afford a mount and who had to run everywhere. In our defence, we felt like buying a herd of non-combat companion cats was a great idea at the time!
Making the most of your travel time suddenly becomes a lot more important when you can no longer rely on easy transportation. Classic WoW doesn't point out quest locations for you as more recent versions of the game have. As a result, you will inevitably miss quest locations or have to run back and forth more times than you anticipated (we can't stress this enough; save up for that mount). When your character dies in a dungeon, you are no longer transported back to the start of the instance. This means - yup, you guessed it - more running. When our characters died for the first time, we also re-lived the glory days of running around like a headless chicken trying our hardest to remember where the entrance was.
Another very noticeable difference is that Classic doesn't cater to those who prefer to play solo. In Battle for Azeroth, it is possible to get through the game largely by yourself. When you do need a group, for example, to clear an instance, the Dungeon Finder will automatically team you up with others and you won't have to lift a finger (apart from the one clicking "Find Group"). You feel adequate to raid? You probably aren't, but Battle for Azeroth will find you a random raid group and allows you to do some casual raiding anyway. The more difficult raiding still exists to this day, although nothing compared to ye olde days of Classic where the first challenge was finding 20 to 40 people on your server willing and able to team up. This also goes for dungeons in Classic WoW, as you will have to find five people to join you on your adventures.
You'll have to find other people the old fashioned way; through good old conversation. If you are looking to play solo, you should probably stay away from Classic as it definitely re-introduces the "multiplayer" to massively-multiplayer online. A strong sense of community has already been displayed with numerous photos showing players neatly lining up to wait their turn to kill enemies (respawn times in Classic WoW are much lower than Battle for Azeroth). We have also experienced a much livelier general chat.
World of Warcraft has definitely seen many positive changes over the past 15 years, and after reading all of the above you might wonder why people want to go back to these more difficult times. Therein lies your answer: it's the difficulty that's attracting veterans and new players alike, and World of Warcraft: Classic has a lot less hand-holding than the modern version of WoW, making it feel more challenging. You must think out your strategies and plan ahead when it comes to quests, talent points, and even spending gold (mounts, save for mounts). The smaller map feels a lot bigger too, levelling is a more difficult and time-consuming ordeal, and when your character dies it suddenly becomes a much bigger deal as you must search for your body to revive. Raiding is once again solely reserved for those who have sunk many hours into the game and, dare we say it, posses some skill - casual raiding and winging it is not an option. Teamwork is not only favourable when raiding, and throughout Classic you will find the game steering you towards joining forces with others.
Blizzard has also announced that it is planning on incorporating other vanilla World of Warcraft experiences, which will be rolling out in six phases:
Phase 1 (Classic Launch): Molten Core, Onyxia, Maraudon
Phase 2: Dire Maul, Azuregos, Kazzak
Phase 3: Blackwing Lair, Darkmoon Faire, Darkmoon deck drops begin
Phase 4: Zul'Gurub, Green Dragons
Phase 5: Ahn'Qiraj War Effort begins, Ahn'Qiraj raids open when the war effort dictates, Dungeon loot reconfiguration (Tier 0.5 Dungeon gear, Relics, drop rates and location changes)
Phase 6: Naxxramas, Scourge Invasion
Similarly, Blizzard will release updates to the game's PvP content too:
Phase 1 (Classic Launch): You can PvP one another in the world, but there is no tracking nor formal rewards for doing so.
Phase 2: Honor System (including Dishonorable Kills), PvP Rank Rewards
Phase 3: Alterac Valley (version 1.12), Warsong Gulch
Phase 4: Arathi Basin
Phase 5: World PvP objectives in Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands
And after that, you ask? We're wondering the same thing. It seems unlikely to update the game anywhere beyond what is considered Classic, as that would defeat the purpose. However, there are already rumours abound that Blizzard is considering releasing other fan-favourite expansions in the future. Time will tell - perhaps in another fifteen years, perhaps never.
If you're after a nostalgic experience, World of Warcraft: Classic is for you. If you're new to this wonderful fantasy setting, Classic WoW is also for you. And if you want to experience the origins of the most popular MMORPG in the world, Classic is for you too. Do you see where we are going with this? We highly recommend World of Warcraft: Classic to players old and new.