I'll admit it: I never played World of Warcraft at its inception. In fact, I only started playing WoW when Legion hit, and even then it was only briefly. Realistically, I didn't start actually playing World of Warcraft until Battle for Azeroth. So the chance to see Azeroth Unmarred was one I had to take.
Most of my time in the two weeks I had Legion installed wasn't actually spent playing the MMO. Rather, I would travel the Mooguard server with a buddy of mine, taking in the sights that Azeroth had to offer. I saw the Dalaraan Crater, the abrupt change of Pandaria verdant forests with its desolation, my friend lamenting the destruction wrought there. Meanwhile, I had yet to see Teldrassil unburnt. I would marvel as we flew through each zone, taking in the world Blizzard created and learn about its history with someone who lived through it all.
I wanted to see the Azeroth before the Cataclysm. I wanted to see Dalaraan standing in the dome in the Alterac Mountains. I wanted to see Teldrassil unburnt. World of Warcraft Classic affords all of these and more. It's a way to step back in time and play through a game as they were being built 15 years ago. WoW may be that old, but it's a very modern MMO thanks to Blizzard's ability to adapt their storytelling and quests with the times.
When South Park's "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episode debuted, it showcased WoW to an audience that may have heard about it, but didn't know what it was about. Many people downloaded the online sensation to play with their friends thanks to Cartman's rousing speech to his classmates prior to the first battle of Azeroth. I, however, was not one of them. I was playing The Lord of the Rings Online at the time, and would play that mostly until a few years ago. It's interesting to hop into WoW and experience what every MMO since 2004 has sought to capture.
I sat in a queue for close to an hour (last time I did that was LOTRO's Legendary Server launch last year). When I could finally log in, I created a Night Elf Priest. I played a Priest and a Monk for my review of Battle for Azeroth last year, so I was at least somewhat familiar with the class, even though obviously it had gone through monumental changes over the course of the last decade and a half.
Stepping under Teldrassil and seeing the purplish haze envelope the world around me, I was entranced. However, a few harsh realities hit me as I quested in the starter zone. There is not quest tracker by default - you have to go into your quest journal and set it to be tracked. Even then, Warcraft doesn't tell you where to go. It's jarring as every modern MMO nowadays essentially holds your hand, marking your map with pin point accuracy where your next objective will be. Heck, Black Desert Online will even give you a guiding line directly towards your objective. So not having any real direction other than quest text was a little jarring at first.
Paying money to learn new skills as you level up also felt intrinsically archaic. Lord of the Rings Online did the same thing early on, but now you don't even need to visit a trainer - you simply learn. Having to go to the trainer to learn my new Priest skills, and knowing that even though I leveled, I may not have access to that skill right away took some getting used to. I was level 5 before I could afford the skill to make water on my Mage, and that is a level 4 skill.
Simple quality of life conveniences such as adding newly acquired skills to your hot bar automatically are also missing - something that thankfully I was prepared for. We take so much of modern game design staples for granted - Classic gives us a snapshot into why those quality of life features were implemented in the first place.
Leif and I spent much of our first hour trying to catch a boat from the Night Elf Lands to eventually travel through Human lands and end up in Stormwind. The boat wasn't coming. Waiting seems to be a very Classic thing: waiting in a queue, waiting in a boat, or even waiting in an impromptu player line for your turn at an NPC boss.
Eventually we created new characters, both Mages, so we could explore Stormwind and Goldshire (whose inn thankfully didn't reflect the state of the inn on my homeserver). Classic is teeming with life. The starter zones were full of warriors, thieves, mages and more all hunting the same kobolds and wolves, hoping to level up and explore more of Azeroth. Gone are the days of shared mobs - back are the desperate bids to tag as many mobs around you as you can handle so you don't miss out on any EXP. Fast traveling is not a thing, so running back and forth between the Northshire Abbey and Stormwind city was a fun expedition.
What I love about all this, though, apart from seeing WoW in its earliest released form - the version that created life long adventures for many of its players - is it shows just how far we've come in MMO design. As someone who critiques games for a living, it's always good to jump into older games and see how we've improved and how things have changed over time. No game has been more influential in its genre than World of Warcraft, I'd dare say. Seeing the early form of WoW has many of the things LOTRO did make more sense now. Taking a look at WoW then and comparing it to WoW now also shows just how far the MMO has come within itself.
Blizzard has done so much to ensure that no matter what new MMO comes on the market, World of Warcraft remains at the top. WoW Classic is a great snapshot into how it all started. I'll be interested in seeing how it fares moving forward once much of novelty wears off. While not a direct comparison because the player numbers have never come close to WoW on a good day, LOTRO's legendary server lost much of its luster rather quickly. How soon will Classic start to die off until it is nothing more than the hardcore left?
As someone who never experienced WoW back then, there is so much to explore and history to look forward to, even though it's all written already. Will it be worth it to me to stick it out through the Lich King or the Cataclysm? How vibrant will the player base feel when we can explore Pandaria again? How long until WoW Classic becomes WoW Modern? Those are definite questions the team has to answer - but for now it's enough to simply enjoy what once was, and appreciate how things are right now. WoW Classic is here to stay, and what a first impression it's left.