Jul 13 2010

Nostalgia Gives People Rose-Tinted Glasses

I see a lot of requests on the official Suggestion forums asking for Blizzard to make special servers with the time rolled back to Classic or Burning Crusade. These requests often come with sharp critiques of the current expansion(s), going as far as to accuse them of “ruining WoW.” I see this even more with Cataclysm looming, where some of the quests and zones responsible for our fondest WoW memories will be going away.  And while I will miss those reminders of early WoW, largely I think nostalgia gives people rose-tinted glasses.

I remember classic WoW.

I remember because there was not much to do at 60, Blizzard drew out the leveling process by filling it full of tedious “busy work” that was designed to be time consuming but without the advantage of being more fun or interesting or even having better rewards.  They did this by doing things like sending you running (literally) all the way across the world to talk to someone, only to have them send you back again.  To further this goal, travel was intentionally made slower than hell.  You didn’t get your first mount until level 40 and even then it was the slow one.  People think it’s “too easy” that we get our mounts earlier and cheaper now?  Well, I’ll counter that my gaming experience was not enhanced, nor did I become a better player, from the “challenge” of running the full length of Azeroth on foot.

I remember having to sit at the computer through long taxi trips because you had to reboard the bat at every flight stop, which was aggravated by long, inefficient travel paths that often circled back on themselves or took long detours.

I remember if you talked a friend into joining the game to play with you, well, you better make a new toon to play with him because it’s going to be months and months before he catches up with your main… if he doesn’t get burnt out trying to do so and quit before then.  And boy, you better hope you like that class you’re leveling as much as you did when you made it, because if you have any semblance of a life, it’s unlikely you’ll have the time or energy to reroll after you’ve hit the level cap.

I remember doing long quest chains or completing arduous journeys only to be rewarded with a [white] item or something absurd like a +spirit 2h axe.  Some slots, like trinkets and necklaces, were just very hard to find in general.  I began raiding, as a rogue, with the +dodge Alterac Valley pvp trinket and the damage absorption one from Araj the Summoner because little out there was better.

I remember the amount of crap you had to carry back then.  Everyone’s bag space was filled up by reagents, specialty tools and class-unique items, not to mention materials needed for professions.  Of course, many common items only stacked in tiny quantities, if at all.  Many of your bag slots were also permanent inhabited by other crucial items like keys. Forget even carrying fun items like pets or more than one mount, which originally occupied bag slots unlike today.  And professions?  I remember items that gave you bonus to +skinning but were not skinning knives so you had to carry both, and mining picks that you could not mine with.  I remember when you had to keep every level of enchanting rod.  Of course, you probably never used those low-level enchants anyway because the profession UI didn’t used to have a search feature to find them even if you wanted to.

I remember missing entire dungeons leveling up, or else having to wait until everything was grey or green so three of us could underman the place, because it was next to impossible to find groups with the laughable LFG chat. Additionally, if you weren’t part of the first pack of people to hit 60, it was really hard to even find people to do “end game” dungeons as well; after so many 45 minute Baron runs, attunement chains, fire resist farming, or just from running them a million times because there wasn’t much else to do, everyone would rather eat glass than visit those places again to help you.

And I remember when running a single dungeon a full evening’s commitment, and even then you often didn’t finish.  I remember that it took a significant portion of time to traverse the map to get to their locations because summoning stones didn’t exist, and once there you could expect to spend four or five hours inside, much of that time spent being lost or mindlessly killing (or rekilling after they respawned) packs of trash.  Worse yet, we had to run some of them (like BRD) many, many times to get the gear and attunements and keys we needed before we could even think about doing cooler things.

I remember the ungodly long run back to Blackrock Mountain after a wipe.  Ask yourself, is it challenging to waste a quarter of your raid time because the run back after a wipe takes ten minutes, or is maybe just frustrating for no good reason?  Blackrock wasn’t the only offender; I remember dozens of other places where the nearest graveyard, flightpath, inn or mailbox was obnoxiously far away for no apparent reason.  You spent more time being inconvenienced by little things than actually playing the parts of the game that were fun.

I remember raiding was the only way to better yourself at 60, and unless you found a (large!) guild to do that with, it was farming twilight’s hammer in Silithus or grinding undead in Eastern Plaguelands to do, and that was pretty much it.  Practically every epic in the game was only available through devoted raiding.  There were no crafted or reputation based ones that a dedicated person could work towards on their own with effort.  If you didn’t have time to raid or know enough people, you might as well just cancel your subscription once you hit 60.  There were few solo activities, no dailies, no achievements, no titles, no cool rewards to unlock.

And for every person I hear pine for classic raiding, I remember a dozen people who swore if they ever saw lava again it would be too soon.  People frequently described Molten Core with the same adjectives they might use to talk about a kick to the groin.  I remember raids being a logistical nightmare to wrangle 40 people, although this was partly made easier by the fact that half of them only had to be “warm bodies” and there wasn’t really any need to contribute more than that.  Difficulty was often related to abhorrent resistance gear checks, aggro problems from white damage, or the aforementioned logistic struggles, rather than impressive and challenging strategies requiring teamwork and skilled execution.

I remember armor pieces, including class sets, being itemised as if they let a monkey pull random stats out of a hat.  Holy paladin wearing agility or a warrior with spirit?  Of course.  You wore armor with stats that were useless to you, because that’s all there was.  Dungeon sets had +armor bonuses, whether you were a tank or a healer or a mage, and nothing was oriented towards a particular spec or playstyle or role.

I remember most classes only had one spec they could play on for PvE and many of those being just one trick ponies.  If you were a shaman, you were resto and it was just because your raid needed you to drop mana tide for the real healers.  Rogues were combat, warriors were tanks, and druids could do a wide variety of things poorly.  Shadow priest?  Ret paladin?  In PvE?  You’re joking, right?  Of course, the revelation that the class you picked may be laughably bad would often only be discovered after you’ve already invested months of work into getting it to the level cap.  Surprise!

I remember when talent trees were littered with stupid talents like rogue’s (original) throwing specialization or parry for hunters, or were totally schizophrenic like shaman’s enhancement tree where you would take absurd talents to improve your shield block because it was, ironically, a prerequisite to the tier that taught you to use two handed weapons.  Even if a particular talent tree had avoided containing useless talents, there was no guarantee it would be a balanced and playable spec choice.

I remember when there were no mage tables, soulwells, or summoning portals, and we brought those classes so they could spend the first thirty minutes of our raid just making water and cookies or summoning people one by one.  Mages were glorified venting machines, warlocks summonbots.

I remember when HoTs didn’t stack and only one healer in the raid could use them.  I remember when they increased the boss debuff limit from 8 to 16, but people had to be careful what they put on the boss lest it push off something more important.  I remember being a rogue who used sharpening stones instead of poisons for that reason.  I remember five minute paladin blessings.  I remember when hunters couldn’t trap in combat and feign death killed them if they did it for too long.  I remember when group buffs and max rank spells could only be learned from raid-drop books.

I remember before Guild banks and linked auction houses.  I remember nicknames like “Lagrimmar” and being nearly incapable of playing in those cities on even the newest machine due to the horrible crowding and resulting server latency.

I remember being so poor at 60 because there were no dailies to balance out my gold loss from raiding repair bills.  I had no epic horse because the only way to get one was to spend my precious little time in-game grinding mob after mob after mob for coins or playing ebay on the auction house just to get enough money to buy it.  My epic PvP mount sat in my bank until Burning Crusade, when I could finally afford to learn it.

I remember waiting hours and hours to get a single battleground match – if I was lucky enough to get one at all; I also remember sometimes logging off after hours of playing and never seeing the match pop.

I remember each faction arguing – justifiably — that the other had an edge in PvE and/or PvP because they didn’t even have access to the same classes, buffs and abilities, including staple buffs like Kings, Might and Wisdom.

I remember when you had to install addons to get many things that are base functionality now, like more than one action bar, auto-loot, scrolling combat text, and all the other great addon features that WoW took and made standard, including snazzier things like boss warnings, voice chat, threat management, instance maps, and gear-set management.  I remember the original chat window and auction house interface. I remember before you could shift-click links of quests and items into chat and before you could track quests on the side of your screen.  I remember the time before target-of-target.  I remember when they added the “dressing room” and the ability to buyback things you’d accidentally sold.

That’s not to say classic WoW wasn’t fun.  It very much was and we wouldn’t have stuck around if it wasn’t.  By pointing out the negatives, I’m not denying all the positives, too: The communities were smaller and more tight-knit. End game wasn’t so much of a gear-grind.  Getting a level felt like an achievement, and not just one minus on the “needed until 80” race, and hitting the cap was something to be really proud of.  Epics really were epic.

But the point is that as time passes, we remember these nice things we may have lost, but often overlooked how much really, really positive stuff we have gained, and all the great refinement on gameplay and the many additional features that have really enhanced our gaming experience.  I’m not saying I hate classic WoW, I’m saying – Wow!  Look at how far we’ve come!

Overall, the main problem with vanilla WoW was that it was stagnant.  It took a lot of time to reach the end, but once you did, there were only so many things you could do until you finished all there was to do, which wasn’t hard to do before long.  After that point, it was boring and it caused a lot of disinterest from people who had up until that point invested a lot into the game.  The only solution to this was to add more stuff, which Blizzard did and continues to do every time the content gets tired.  Do we miss the old content and some of the great things that were a part of it?   Sure.  But, at the end of the day, it seems fairly obvious to me that we’re where we are because of necessity to keep this game alive and compelling.  Demands for classic servers and critiques of the concept of expansions are shortsighted because they ignore this very critical fact.  Even if you’re one of those people who pines for the original game, you have to acknowledge all the positive changes and additions that Blizzard has made over the years.

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