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World of Warcraft Classic is an unfulfilling slog without friends

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I don’t know what it is exactly, but thinking back to vanilla WoW makes me feel like it’s ten years older than it really is. I didn’t join until around the launch of its second expansion Wrath of the Lich King, but I distinctly remember one high-school kid trying to sell me on vanilla in the resistant materials lab when we really should have been, you know… learning about the real world.

By the time I signed up in 2008, those who tried to get me into Azeroth early had moved on to Call of Duty and Battlefield. Instead, I was embracing the sense of adventure that games like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time instilled in me early on. That sense of adventure was the very same that kept me logging into Azeroth time and time again. It’s probably what brings me back for a few weeks with each expansion too, even if World of Warcraft can’t tear me away from the newer, prettier MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV for too long.

No respect for a player’s time

For vanilla WoW players, jumping back into World of Warcraft Classic is all about recreating what they see as the core WoW experience: grindy, consuming, and difficult, rather than what they see as the watered-down version we have today. Because you can’t scrub your memory and experience the vanilla zones again for the first time, all World of Warcraft Classic can do is remind me of my miserable existence grinding a single level twelve hours each day just to join my friends in wiping to more meaningful content.

So herein lies my issue with World of Warcraft Classic. It’s a relic of bygone times. A game I cherish and remember not only for taking me on wild adventures around some truly gorgeous and inspiring fantasy worlds, but for sapping untold hours of my life in rudimentary, unnecessary ways.

Without someone to grind out levels with, it’s a lonely, repetitive slog with largely unfulfilling combat.

I’m not going to play the blame game here; nobody forced me to play this game twelve hours a day but myself. But going back in now reminds me why I keep quitting the new expansions so soon. It’s not because of flat storytelling or uninteresting new zones. It’s because without someone to grind out levels with, it’s a lonely, repetitive slog with largely unfulfilling combat.

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Most of my early days in Azeroth were spent with my cousin. He would grab his laptop from home after school and walk a few streets down to my house. It couldn’t have been every day, but it sure feels like it looking back. We grew up with many shared gaming experiences, so playing World of Warcraft together was just another memory to bank. His interest in PvP gave him more reason to stick with the game long after I’d set it aside, but leveling with him again this past week was like the time we blitzed through the 3DS re-release of Pokemon Red and Blue — a humble reliving of simpler times.

But these aren’t simpler times. We both have jobs with wacky hours. I could work around his hours, but it’s borderline impossible for me to take a week off for the occasion like he could. A busier than expected week for me meant it was only fair to let him carry on without me. It was all about the race to level 60 for most, so insisting he create another character and replay those 12 or so hours alone so as to not leave me behind wouldn’t have been fair. In fact, it reinforces my point of World of Warcraft Classic struggling to respect the player’s time — something that would become a major design discussion in modern video games.

Turning a grind into a journey

Everyone has to be an asshole to get ahead in WoW Classic. Our mix of ranged and gap-closing melee meant we could steal mobs out from other players’ feet with ease. And honestly? We loved it. Just like how another player would get a kick from doing the same. The barrage of sarcasm, immature (and traditional) innuendos, and silly character names all play a big part in defusing the obvious shortcomings of the game design. Having someone to share that and laugh with makes the game feel like a real journey rather than a test of how many times you can run back to your corpse after getting ganked by a patrolling Gnoll.

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With me sidelined with work, my cousin continued the race, keeping up with another friend of his and once again dabbling in PvP along the way. I didn’t really mind this at first. It wasn’t something we could really plan or control. But when I found the time to jump back in, I was reminded of just how painfully lonely and honestly boring World of Warcraft could be without a friend keeping you company.

Hopping into WoW Classic at launch, it was every man for themselves. Limited mobs, harsh drop rates, and hundreds of players crammed into a single area, all trying to complete the same quest.

But I gave it another go without my cousin, deciding to level a Druid on another server to avoid the queues that cut into my already limited free time. My boyfriend was visiting at the time, so it was fun to show him around Teldrassil and rattle off cherished memories to anyone who would listen. But once he left and I tried to carry on, it just wasn’t the same.

When people are screaming in area chat about not having a single quest item drop in 45 minutes, it becomes a chore masquerading as paid-for entertainment.

Giving it yet another go, I managed to party up with another cousin of mine who was around the same level. He’s quite a bit younger than me and immediately pointed out how sentimental it was that his first WoW experience was with me; just like how it had been with my other cousin back in the day. It’s those kinds of stories I hold close to my heart. So as to not ruin that fragile moment with the hellscape that is Westfall, I walked him over to Loch Modan where we got to work farming boars, bears, and spiders for one dodgy meal. It took us close to an hour to get the necessary materials to complete that one single quest. Why 40 boars were missing intestines is beyond me.

But the hour flew by; our observations of the game world and silly banter once again diffusing the otherwise torturous experience that activity would have been alone. When we finished, it was 10 PM. With a shift in the morning, he logged off and went to bed. My own work would block me from playing the next day as planned, so I was alone. Again.

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Fighting four other people for 12 different mobs each with an apparent 5% chance of dropping a specific quest item isn’t fun. The items don’t share, so teaming up with strangers is not a realistic option. Instead, I’m reminded of those 12-hour marathons to gain a single level, only to play catch-up with people with far more free time on their hands.

It’s a sad, lonely existence only made slightly bearable by Blizzard’s terrific zones and music. But ultimately, it’s a game designed to soak up as many hours as possible to keep your subscription in the books. It’s not too bad when you have a full camp of monsters to farm, but when people are screaming in area chat about not having a single quest item drop in 45 minutes, it becomes a chore masquerading as paid-for entertainment.

You can probably tell by now that I have a love-hate relationship with World of Warcraft no matter which version it is. But that brief attempt at leveling with friends and family served to remind me that World of Warcraft Classic just isn’t all that great without good company. Its convoluted mechanics often work against the players paying to keep it alive, and the burden of the grind is only made far more tolerable when you have a friend to take along for the ride.

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Josh Brown
Josh Brown is a UK-based freelancer with devoted interests in video games, tech, film, and anime/manga. Just don't talk to…
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