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WoW > WoW ArchivistNov 28, 2017 4:00 pm CT

WoW Archivist: Classic hassles

classic login screen

Executive Producer J. Allen Brack caught a lot of heat when he suggested four years ago that players didn’t really want Classic realms. “You think you do,” he said infamously, “but you don’t.”

I honestly agreed with him. I admit the irony: For someone who writes about WoW history every month, I’ve never shared the enthusiasm of players who have clamored for Classic-era realms. I was excited when Blizzard announced their intention to provide those realms at BlizzCon this year, but only because I know it will make a lot of people happy.

I have so many incredible memories of that time. Classic WoW was the most intense and enjoyable period of my entire gaming life. But it’s partly for that reason that I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to remember it the way I remember it — as the ultimate landmark MMO that redefined online gaming, that provided countless hours of entertainment, that led me to both unexpected real-life friendships and real-world opportunities.

I didn’t want to judge it against the WoW of today. But here we are, and so we will.

For those who are curious to try Classic, I don’t want to discourage you from giving it a shot. Heck, almost a year ago I wrote a whole Archivist column about what made Classic WoW so great. But we need to remember that as good as WoW was back then, it also had a lot of flaws.

Was Brack right? Let’s look at some of those flaws today to help us decide.

chicken quest text

The age of quest text

Probably the most jarring difference for modern players when they first start playing Classic will be the lack of map options. Today’s interface, with its clearly marked quest icons and highlighted areas, is a far cry from the noninteractive map of Classic. Sites like Wowhead will be able to guide you, but in those first months before Thottbot became the go-to, we actually had to read the quest text for clues about where to go.

Likewise, quest items and quest mobs had no UI highlighting. If you wanted to find that one tiny item for your quest, you had to search until you found it or you got motion sickness from spinning the camera around.

You could ask for help in zone chat, but between the exasperated players telling you to read the quest text and the trolls giving you the wrong answer, that approach was a minefield.

Was Mankrik’s wife ever found just by searching? Someone must have been the first, right?

stranglethorn bridge

Fatigue of explorers

Quests were mostly a one and done experience. Long quest chains existed, but they often took you to different zones or continents to complete, so they were far more time-consuming than today’s quest hub-to-quest hub chains.

Getting to that other zone or continent was no simple task. Even if you had all the necessary flight paths, you could only fly one path at a time. You had to fly to each point and then select the next point to keep traveling. The way they connected wasn’t always obvious, so sometimes you had to backtrack if a point didn’t connect to your destination.

After you completed a quest, your next job was to explore elsewhere in the zone to figure out where else a quest might be hiding. The Classic game definitely encouraged and rewarded exploration in that way, but it could be frustrating when you fought your way through an area full of monsters, only to find the quest for that area later.

Many quests required a group to complete. Without any type of Group Finder tool,  you had to ask for help from some friendly players in zone chat. God help you if that zone was the Barrens.

If you tried to solo something and failed, you could look forward to a very long corpse run. Most zones in Classic had only one graveyard.

When you finally leveled out of a zone, the game gave you no indication of which zone to visit next. In many cases, it wasn’t the zone next door.

Thirst for adventure

Mana and health regenerated slowly and most DPS classes didn’t have the handy self-healing abilities of today. Casters ran out of mana in a heartbeat. Bringing food and drink out into the wilderness was essential. Questing players spent almost as much time sitting on the ground, eating and drinking, as they did fighting. In dungeons, your group would often have to eat and drink between each pull.

There was an ongoing argument on the forums about whether DPS and tanks should eat between pulls or whether the healer should heal everyone up and then drink to restore their mana. If a pull went wrong or adds showed up, many times that healer would end the battle with no mana. So they’d have to drink to get their mana back, spend all that mana to heal the party, and then drink again if their group members weren’t eating. I sided with the healers on that one.

raid on the crossroads

A world at war

Questing in a certain zone wasn’t always necessarily available. I don’t mean that you ran out of quests and had to grind mobs — which you sometimes did, especially if you hadn’t run the level-specific dungeons multiple times. I mean that the NPCs that provided the quests weren’t always alive.

World PVP was far more common in Classic than today. Though PVP offered no rewards whatsoever in early Classic, players still found amusement in the sheer joy of denying the opposite faction the use of cities and towns. On PVE realms, the other faction couldn’t kill you unless you attacked them (or accidentally healed someone who was flagged). But they could still murder your flight masters, repair NPCs, and questgivers with impunity.

PVE realms like mine (Khadgar-US) had a heavy Alliance population, and they took advantage. The Crossroads, Grom’gol, and Tarren Mill were frequent targets of Alliance raids, but they would take over any town they wanted to. Without extra guards to spawn or the hard-to-kill flight masters in today’s game, nothing stopped them from occupying a Horde outpost for hours at a time.

Eventually the Horde might rally enough high-level players to one of these low-level zones to drive them out, but more frequently than not, the Alliance had their way. When I logged in to the game, I never knew whether I would be able to quest in a given area or not, depending on what the Alliance were up to that evening. On most PVP realms, it was the Horde doing this to the Alliance.

tarren mill pvp

The Honor of all grinds

The PVP system wasn’t added until later in Classic. We don’t know yet which version of Classic Blizzard will target or whether realms will progress through patches. So it’s impossible to know if that first grindy PVP system will be a part of Classic realms. Enough has been said about that already. I actually think the concept itself was fine. The system just needed to allow more players at the higher ranks. The 24-7 Honor grind requirements of hitting max rank was over the top, even for 2005 standards.

It also needed more options to grind that Honor other than world PVP. Battlegrounds were part of that solution, but they weren’t enough.

Classic’s first Battlegrounds were well designed — except for the fact that they never had to end. Warsong Gulch could go on forever if one team was successful at “turtling” in their own base. Alterac Valley campaigns sometimes took two or three days to decide a victor because you had to kill the opposing team’s leader in order to win. You certainly felt like you were part of a massive war, but it wasn’t a friendly experience for players who had an hour or two to play.

Slot jockeys

When you weren’t fighting mobs or other players, you were fighting your lack of inventory space. Bags were expensive and limited in size. I remember agonizing over what to throw away when I was out questing because the nearest NPC to vendor anything was a ten-minute run away. You never wanted to toss anything because gold was so hard to earn. Bank expansions were tied to those same small bags, and most players couldn’t afford them all.

Everything took up an inventory slot. Every mount took a slot. Every pet took a slot. Every “toy” (though no such designation existed then) took a slot. If you liked the appearance of a piece of gear and wanted to keep it, that took a slot.

Most classes had to carry around reagents to cast certain spells, like Shaman’s Reincarnate or Paladin blessings. Warlock Soul Shards were inventory items. They didn’t stack, and you needed an absolute buttload of them for a raid night.

Bank alts were common, but they could only help you with items that you didn’t need day to day and those that weren’t soulbound.

inventory slots in classic

Pity the Hunters

Hunters had their own set of inventory issues. They needed ammo for every shot they fired off. Some ammo was more expensive and more effective than others, so you had your regular ammo for questing and your good ammo for raiding or difficult dungeon bosses.

Then you had to feed your pets. A hungry pet dealt less damage, and a starving pet would actually abandon you. Pets died often in group content since they had no native AOE resistance, healers often ignored them, and it was a huge DPS loss for a hunter to heal their own pet. Every time they died, they needed to be fed again. Different types of pets ate different types of food. If you wanted to switch to a ranged pet for a boss with a nasty melee cleave, that meant carrying around a separate stack of food.

Hunters also used mana, so they needed to carry lots of mana potions to maintain DPS. Hunters went out of mana very quickly during boss encounters without drinking a potion every 2 minutes, which was the potion cooldown at the time. In mana emergencies, Hunters would actually Feign Death in the middle of a fight just so they could drink to restore mana.

Let’s not forget that all weapons were hunter weapons, so that took up a lot of bag space, too.

So many hassles

We’ve covered so many hassles, but we haven’t even touched the hassles around gearing, the endgame, or Classic raiding yet, but that’s an entire Archivist column unto itself. Look for that one next month!

It will definitely be interesting to see how players react to reliving those early years. Despite my reservations, I plan to roll a character on a Classic realm for the nostalgia alone, though I’m not sure how long I’ll stick with it. It all depends on whether those questgivers are alive when I log in.

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