World of Warcraft Classic review: Waste your time

WoW Classic shows its age, but it's as addictive as ever

World of Warcraft Classic review: Waste your time

“Classic's captivating community and world help it to withstand the test of time.”
  • Great community
  • Engrossing game world
  • Fantastic recreation of the original
  • Art style helps it stand the test of time
  • Excellent nostalgia high
  • Combat shows its age
  • Questing is a slog
  • Overcrowded with long login times

World of Warcraft changed the world. There are no two ways about it. Blizzard put itself on the map with real-time strategy games Starcraft and Warcraft and captivated RPG fans with Diablo, proving its ability to create long-lasting games outside of the then infantile MMO genre.

By wrapping years of lore around vast environments, Blizzard brought all those players and more together with a strikingly deep recreation of a fictional world. Azeroth was truly born in 2004, and only by growing over the next 15 years have we been allowed to experience its birth yet again with World of Warcraft Classic.

I wasn’t there for the vanilla launch back in 2004: my personal World of Warcraft journey wouldn’t start until around 2008. But after waiting around last week for the “Enter World” button to light up at 11 PM on the dot, it was easy to imagine myself sat at my childhood PC, the very same one that introduced me to The Sims, Wolfenstein, and Call of Duty in the years past, waiting to embark on an adventure that would become such a large part of my teenage years. Only I didn’t have to wait for four hours in massive queues like some others; I’d hopped onto a newer realm, the late 11 PM European start working in our favor at the time.

Queue like it’s 2004

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the tidal wave of players crowding the starting zones. Your starting point across Azeroth is determined by the race you choose, with some, like the Dwarf and Gnome of the Alliance, sharing a spot in the snowy mountains of Dun Morogh.

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The lengthy pan around the zone as you’re briefed on lore and dropped into what could essentially be your second life probably had the same impact for PC players in 2004 that Navi’s fly-through to Link’s house in Ocarina of Time had back in 1998 on the N64. The graphical leap between Warcraft III and World of Warcraft would have been astonishing. It was like the opening moments of a Tolkein story; spellbinding. Magical. Memorable.

No World of Warcraft character has ever really represented me on a personal level, so rather than regurgitating my spikey-haired Human Warrior, I opted to join my cousin in choosing a frankly terrifying Dwarf Warrior. That way I was experiencing something new and familiar at the same time. His name would be AlecBaldwin. Whether or not it looks like him is for you to decide.

World of Warcraft Classic is a great social space known for creating long-term friendships, and I’m glad the same appears to be true today.

With limited ways to mess around with a name in World of Warcraft, making something eye-catching and memorable is a big part of the experience. My original character, TastyNoodle, was obviously based on a snack I’d scoffed down when making my first steps into Azeroth.

It’s a name that stuck with me for years and caused a bitter rivalry with a Human Mage on my server simply called Noodle. I’d get into very public shouting matches each and every time we ran into each other, fighting over who “stole” who’s name. It’s probably the most amount of roleplaying I’ve ever done.

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I loved every second of its stupidity, and it’s something I’ve been able to experience again with the WoW community’s refreshing sarcasm and laid-back nature. I used the spitting emote on someone for stealing a quest mob — a non-player character you kill for a quest — only to have them tell me how they liked my brother better anyway. Which brother they’re referring to exactly is a question I didn’t have the heart to ask.

It might just be a British thing, but we love spouting coarse language at each other while grinning ear to ear. Chat channels filled with sarcastic replies to genuine questions and horrendous dad jokes was just what I needed four days into a busy work week. Despite its geeky undertones, World of Warcraft Classic is a great social space known for creating long-term friendships, and I’m glad the same appears to be true today.

You’re just as likely to end up fighting the same Knolls or spiders you saw 30 levels prior, only beefed up to beat you down again.

Starting off in Dun Morogh was new for me. I’ll never defect to the Horde side, but I could rarely stomach leveling outside of Elywn Forest on the outskirts of Stormwind. It’s where I started my adventure, and it will always have a special place in my heart. Dun Morogh, by comparison, is a bleak, blindingly white expanse of nothingness.

The quests are largely the same; hunt six of these, collect 12 of those, take this to that guy over there, but it just didn’t instill that same sense of adventure. Growing up with a game like Ocarina of Time, I’ve always been fascinated with green forests and the secrets they can hide behind every tree and mossy crack in the earth. Is there a cave there? Probably not. But imagine what you’d find if there was one.

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That sense of exploration and mystery has always captivated me, but having to spend close to an hour camping mob spawns with 200 others slapping the same 12 wolves with sticks and swords made me realize just how good I had it by joining the game four years into its life. It really starts to hammer in the logistical problems of designing an MMO.

There’s just not enough to go around, and when you’re fighting over the same three mobs each with what feels like a 5% chance to drop one of the six things you need to earn a tenth of your level, you do start to question how much of your life you are losing to basically nothing. And with how little resources there would have been back at launch, finding something else to do was just as risky a time investment as staying and beating up boars until the sun came up.

If you can appreciate good worldbuilding, you are in for a treat.

This raw approach stays mostly the same no matter which zone you reach. You come across newer, stronger enemies along the way, but you’re just as likely to end up fighting the same Knolls or spiders you saw 30 levels prior, only beefed up to beat you down again.

Quest variety wasn’t massive in World of Warcraft Classic. It’s something Blizzard only started to mess around with in its expansions. But with each zone looking so radically different from the last, whether you’re on the Eastern Kingdoms or Kalimdor, you’re always discovering new sights even when you’re running essentially the same fetch quest from last week. If you can appreciate good worldbuilding, you are in for a treat. It’s a heck of a grind, but it’s all the more reason to take it slow and enjoy the ride, stopping to take in the sights along the way.

Every choice matters

World of Warcraft Classic cuts down player choice to its nine original classes; some being exclusive to specific races. Each class can hold their own against single targets when playing solo, but others really benefit from pairing up with a friend to speed up fights, reducing incoming damage, and lowering the downtime needed to chug food and drink to replenish spent health and mana.

Some classes; like the Hunter and Warlock, gain access to pets that can fulfill the role of a personal tank, vastly increasing the ability to quickly complete quests without having to take breaks between kills. Melee attacks, like from a Warrior, can get blocked, parried, or just straight-up miss their mark far more often than you’d like, causing a noticeable divide when leveling alone.

It all equates to a noticeable divide between the effectiveness of one class over another at a time where each should be just as capable of beating up simple quest mobs alone. It’s obviously possible to make it to level 60 without the help of a friend or nearby ally, but it can sometimes feel unfair and imbalanced.

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You might as well throw out anything and everything you know about these classes from post Vanilla. A lot changed at some point, and even playing a warrior isn’t as clear-cut as it ought to be. It’s good to see the viability of individual class builds return, but having been around when they eventually added dual-spec, it’s agonizing to go back to the dark days before you could fill the DPS or tank/heal role without dropping a chunk of change for the privilege.

Combat is likely where those playing World of Warcraft for the first time will struggle to see the appeal; not because it’s complicated or needlessly deep, but due to how slow and unfulfilling it is by today’s standards.

Its barrage of button presses strewn about action bars is something we still see today in games like Final Fantasy XIV, but in the face of titles like Black Desert Online and even the much older TERA, it’s easy to see how MMOs have evolved over the years in more departments than just graphical.

When the brunt of your game consists of slamming buttons to fight off beasts, you better make it feel good to distract us from the repetitive nature of it all.

Attacks lack the heft and impact most would expect these days. The lengthier global cooldowns on skills and “next attack” style buffs also manage to create a combat system that’s so slow by comparison that it starts to feel more like a game of Dungeons and Dragons moreso than a traditional MMO.

I can distinctly remember attacks like Thunder Clap and Blizzard ticking all the right boxes back in the day, but it’s been one of the things to drive me back to other games in recent years. When the brunt of your game consists of slamming buttons to fight off beasts, you better make it feel good to distract us from the repetitive nature of it all.

It’s ok to be home

After close to 10 years of asking to return to the glory days of Azeroth, Blizzard has finally reopened the flood gates. The company spent the last few years telling us we didn’t really want it; that rose-tinted glasses were clouding our memory of the past. Were they right? Yes and no.

World of Warcraft’s underlying engine prevents it from ever truly evolving beyond a few minor graphical upgrades and changes to progression. Its core system and combat will always feel mostly the same — flat and dry but nostalgically tempting. No amount of this can ever make the game feel new again. Instead, it’s only tweaked in ways players never really asked for in a vain attempt to keep it “fresh”.

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Blizzard’s crowning achievement might not carry the clout it did 15 years ago and may still struggle to engross a similar audience today, but while its core systems and semi-dated visuals might not convince new and old players to choose it over a modern title, those who do decide to hang around are bound to make a few new friends, dramatically increasing the worth of the experience along the way.

After too long out of the limelight, this fine slice of video game history will stick around for years to come. It might die off again in a few months or years, but 20 years down the line World of Warcraft Classic will be there waiting to welcome the curious new generation to simpler times, or to give a warm hug to a past player looking to reminisce when the outside world is weighing down on them just a little too much.

What I’m trying to say is, World of Warcraft Classic doesn’t need to exist, but I’m sure glad it does.

Our Take

Many blame skill bloat, streamlining, and a lack of compelling content for the gradual decline of World of Warcraft. Classic is like a good old stat squish – necessary for things to run smoothly. Realistic transitions between zones will forever stand as a high point of the game’s unforgettable fantasy world. And while the combat may feel rather lifeless by today’s standards with a lack of solid feedback and plenty of fluff padding it out, it’s clear most of Azeroth’s denizens are happy to be home; they’re helpful, hilarious, and the obvious lifeblood of Blizzard’s finest creation.

Is there a better alternative

Honestly? No. The hold on history World of Warcraft has makes it the finest example of an MMO done right. It paved the way for the games we know today, and while many others can best it graphically and mechanically 15 years down the line, there’s still something to be said about experiencing the game that started it all.

How long will it last?

You could probably gamble on the answer for this. Blizzard says the WoW Classic servers will stay up so long as there’s demand. There will always be demand. But once the content drops reach the cut-off point, it’s hard to see how the game will continue without a constant stream of new players.

Should you buy it?

Yes. Vanilla World of Warcraft changed the gaming landscape. It’s a piece of our hobby’s history. And just like how many of us would hop in a time machine to experience something like the dawn of the dinosaurs, so should you experience exactly why this game had the impact it did.

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