Blizzard is a company whose games have been a part of my life since 1998. It all started with StarCraft and came to a fever pitch with Diablo 2. Currently I play Hearthstone on a daily basis, and I’ve spent a dozen or so hours in both Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch. I’ve put many hours into StarCraft 2 and even more into Diablo 3. However, to this day I have never played any of the original Warcraft trilogy.
But I have spent thousands of hours in World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft as it exists today is a completely different game than what it was in its “Vanilla” days before its many expansions. While the core gameplay is still the same, it has received numerous revamps and enhancements. The graphics have improved. New ways to immerse players have been implemented. Move sets have been constantly tweaked. Additional classes and races have been added to the game. Features such as the Dungeon Finder have popped up to make the game easier and more streamlined. And the lore has progressed into outright silly territory.
One could write multiple novels on World of Warcraft’s legacy, but this retrospective’s focus is only on the original version of the game.
My first brush with World of Warcraft came in college when I went to a friend’s apartment for Halo night only to find the entire crew was playing World of Warcraft, a game I hadn’t yet heard of. I recall being upset, as I was pulled away from the Halo 2 campaign to find no one wanted to play multiplayer. I quickly left to go home and play the (unfortunately awful) Halo 2 campaign, disappointed at the waste of time and gas.
However, within a few days the request came on behalf of my friends to join their crusade. With a trial code in tow I downloaded the game early one morning before work and proceeded to make a Night Elf Rogue. The light in my head clicked on when I saw the similarities to Diablo’s loot system. “A massive, 3D, open world, fantasy-based Diablo? HOLY CRAP!”
Since then I’ve been on many adventures, with many different friends, across many different characters and realms.
Arguably my most fond memory of World of Warcraft’s Vanilla days took place early on in my World of Warcraft career. Myself and four other college friends were around level 16-18, questing away in Westfall, when we all decided to tackle the first dungeon for the Alliance: The Deadmines. We all gathered in Moonbrook and made our way down the kobold-ridden mine shafts to the Deadmines entrance.
For the next two or three hours, we played through one of the most fun gaming sessions I’ve ever had. Teamwork. Exploration and discovery. Harrowing victory. Juicy spoils. Unintentional role-playing. Very few multiplayer games today come close to the camaraderie found in Vanilla World of Warcraft dungeon runs, especially when they are with friends experiencing it all for the first time. Even though Deadmines was given a facelift and a boss swap in an expansion, any time I go through there I always remember back to that first run with my friends.
Though all of my friends eventually hit level 60, I tapered off in the 50s before returning in the Burning Crusade expansion to finally hit the vanilla level cap. The reason for that was I found more enjoyment exploring the world or grinding out items to sell on the auction house rather than questing. There was a spot in the Badlands near a Horde outpost with a cave and a bunch of earth elementals. I would farm there for hours listening to my Ayreon albums all to make gold on the auction house selling Elemental Earth. Back then a stack sold for 6 gold, peanuts compared to how quickly you can accrue gold today, but in Vanilla 6 gold a stack could lead to wealth.
Vanilla World of Warcraft is more or less gone at this point. The Cataclysm expansion retooled every Vanilla zone and all of the quest lines. The Vanilla dungeons have all had face lifts too, with only the Raids I believe having survived mostly in tact. The PvP zones are still similar as well. Though Vanilla is gone, you can still see flashes of it beneath the new coats of paint.
I guess this was more of a personal eulogy for World of Warcraft’s past than it was a retrospective of the actual game. The sheer amount of content at the ridiculously polished level of quality that Blizzard delivered was simply unheard of for a game back in 2004, especially in a world shared with your friends and thousands of other players (not to insult other MMOs). Though the game was not objectively perfect (there were plenty of bugs, servers occasionally had issues), for me it is the epitome of what a game can and should be. World of Warcraft may be long overplayed for most, but during its initial run it was arguably the best game ever made.