I have written this post to gather some positive thoughts about WoW, to compare its old and current play system, to reminisce about the former pvp experience and in general to share some old stories. This is just a reading material for pleasure (quite long), nothing serious here.
I have played late vanilla and tbc which will be the basis of my writing. I’m sure many people could share stories about early/mid vanilla or wotlk but I didn’t have the chance to experience those. After resubbing to the game in late mop (my irl friends who also played back then and who were inviting me back during wotlk/cata bought me a gamecard), I was bewildered about the state of the game. The most accurate statement is to make I think is that mop/wod/legion (a few weeks I could experience from it) “felt and feels totally different from vanilla/tbc”. I wouldn’t instantly jump to say ‘worse’, let’s just keep the word ‘different’ for now.
The system of WoW was shifted from an ‘immersive mmo’ to a ‘casual mmo’. As I witnessed, most players call this transformation a downgrade, and well to a certain point I agree with them. The goal of my post is to somehow compare the immersive experience of the past to the current, casual one (a bit more in-depth and from other perspectives than calling the common things like pruning) and then to draw some conclusion.
You and your character
During the old days, funny to admit, but some form of emotional connection between you and your character had to develop. The leveling and the gear/gold grinding made it really hard to have several, highly equipped and played characters. Even the biggest nerds with infinite amount of free time had to settle for a main character and then possible have 1 or max 2 alts. The same goes for talent spec, you had no time, money and energy to play all the hybrid specs of your char. By settling to one main character with one main spec, you as a player were viewing the WoW world through the lenses of your character. You knew your counters, the classes that could defeat you in 1v1 or could harass you in bgs. You knew the specs you could easily outplay. People raged on forums and tried to lobby the buffing of their own spec. Soon, attitudes and characteristics were paired to each spec (retarded warrior, mastermind mage, ganker rogue, sucker moonkin etc). I played enhancement shaman during tbc so I was despised in many situations (useless in arena, retarded windfury rng damage, easily kiteable by casters etc). Contrary to that, I felt rewarding for beating high rated rmps in arena or oneshotting people in bgs or world pvp.
Back then, there was no battlenet, WoW players know my character and not me. There was no such thing as “account wide” item or achievements/trophies. Gear could not be transmogged, you had to wear your shit gear with shame or your outstanding gear with pride. Funny as it sounds the existence of your character created the basis to have an immersive experience in this video game. As for now, characters don’t really mean too much anymore. You can level or boost and then gear anything fast. Everyone has several alts and playing multiclasses. Achievements, mounts and other trophies and account wide. Instead of being tied to your character, now it is the people behind the characters who are relevant (think of streamers). This is somewhat less nerdy but at the same time a missing element from the immersive mmo experience.
Community and integration
I believe it’s safe to say that WoW had the best and most immersive integration out of all video games of all time. You had regions (EU and NA mainly, but also sometimes people heard news about the other ‘exotic regions’ where totally different meta existed with 3000 rating), people weren’t playing in multiple regions. You had battlegroups (active bgs for competitors and backwater bgs for shady people), people of the same bg but from different realms went to IRC chat so they could press queue button at the same time and face each other for prestigious fight. You had servers which determined many things of your WoW life (percentage of horde and alliance players, aggressive ganking realm or chilled pve realm, elite pve guilds etc). You had factions, remember that you could not have same faction characters on the same realm, you couldn’t talk to the other faction in chat etc), you was basically tied to your faction. Some people took this seriously, you can still see in old pvp videos for the horde yellings in nearly every battleground. You had pvp guilds because no battlenet friend list existed and the best pvpers liked to gather around. Rivalry between pve and pvp guilds and well within between pvp guilds were always there. You had arena teams, famous or infamous in their bgs and the place of your somewhat constant partners.
All of these levels of integration were meaningful, it was well known what are the goods bgs, where is it the best to start horde character, what are the prestigious pvp guilds in your bg and in other bgs, who are part of the best arena teams and why. There were the extrovert people leading pvp guilds, the alone drifters who felt cool for not being part of the circlejerk, the ones who swapped between rival pvp guilds etc etc. At this point, you were not only in an emotional connection with your character, but your character had its own place in this complex, integrated world where and with whom you enjoyed playing with.
Yesterday night I met an undead priest sitting on her gladiator netherdrake on the streets of Dalaran. Her name was very close to one I recalled from tbc times, her title was High Warlord. I whispered her with citing her rogue partner from her rmp team from 2008/2009. My assumption about her identity was right and when I told her my name she remembered me as well. We shared our stories, why we are meeting in the same video game after 10 years. This is not the first case, I had similar experience when I resubbed in mop and throughout later when some people from my actual friend list (so not bnet) popped online on my old realm. Everyone clearly remembered the old times, the people, the guilds and rivalries etc from that time. Nowadays, integration to this extent is missing from the game. Regions, servers or factions have no added value anymore. What is left is pve guilds (which are still doing fine) and battlenet friends. What is new, is the streaming community which is undoubtedly an addition and would have been interesting to see back then.
Participation in arena
Sadly, the number of people who are still doing arena in WoW wouldn’t be enough for one or two more active bgs of the past. In tbc, arena was so new that most people, even anti-pvpers wanted to try it. The fade-away of this new experience is obviously not the fault of the developers, it’s simple human nature. However, back then the rewards from arena were powerful and prestigious. Under specific circumstances, pve guys committed to play arenas so that they could obtain season 2 weapons or armor because they gave better stats then what he could possible obtain with his pve guild in karazhan. 2v2, 3v3 and 5v5 were all unique and were promoting rewards. People actively played all brackets: 2v2 to practice and with low rated irl friends where new teams could be easily formed. However, the high end of the 2v2 was undoubtedly challenging. 3v3 as the real deal, being part of the rank1 team in 3v3 of an active bg felt just as rewarding as being the highest rated player of the world currently. 5v5 was also completely fine, it was enjoyable to play and people could obtain the most arena points from 5v5 from week to week so they were motivated. The items that required high rating (either because of the amount of points or required rating) were regarded prestigious and if combined with a gladiator drake, the whispers outside Orgrimmar or in a bg were guaranteed.
People thought about arena as something complex, fast paced action part of WoW and not some sideway, garbage, no good for nothing nerd activity that is required for 100 wins mounts. The best people on the server were both at the top of the arena ladder and of the raid progress. At the end of the season gladiators were showing of their drakes from both faction in front of shattrath banks. When the new items arrived to the vendor at Area52, all the people from server were there. I still have my fraps videos with 1-5 fps when everyone was aoeing and the elite ogre guards could do nothing with the crowd. By slow meltdown, this charisma of the arena has faded away for numerous reasons we all know. What is left now is some video game activity that is quite unique (no other 2v2/3v3 games like WoW) and that some people still enjoy for doing in their free time. I think the arena is still okey, I ressubbed to play some arenas with irl friends because it’s still enjoyable. It’s still better than committing that 2 hours of my free time to another video game, but this is a personal and subjective preference of course. The gameplay is more enjoyable than say pubg or csgo or a moba. But arena has no deeper meaning anymore.
Activities outside arena and a complex world
Back in tbc I and many others used to do many things in WoW. Play bgs alone, queue premade bgs, do city raids, gank low level chars, help low level chars in my guild being ganked, duel outside Ogrimmar, do free for all in gurubashi arena, gank daily questers in isle of quel’danas, disrupt pvers summoning at the meeting stone outside the raid in the evening etc. Many of these led to memorable experiences for me (long AVs, 3v1 against lvl70 players when my alt was ganked, hiding from the gankers in the tent at nesingwary in stranglethorn vale without being aware existence of nameplates; having my notorious duel partners outside OG every night, requesting my irl friend playing ally on the same server to organize an 1v1 duel for me with an infamous ganker called Senorita on elemental plateau above shattrath, etc etc). After a certain point our pvp guild also started doing pve so that top people could get the top gear. I, who did not step into a single raid since I resubbed in mop, was doing pve in tbc because it was fun with gladiators and was beneficial (but not mandatory) from gear-wise. I really enjoyed this complex world of WoW. I would also add here that WoW as a ‘world’ itself felt alive, people were gathering at the battlemasters, the banks, outside the main cities, at the actual arenas, arena vendor etc. Some nerds believed it’s more cool to queue from Thunder Bluff than from OG, I followed them and still queue from TB when on horde. You had pvp conflicts on ships, zeppelins. Hillsbrad foothills was a pain to lvl in, barrens chat was retarded, meetings stones outside dungeons were the place of ganking etc. Today, you do not ‘live’ in WoW anymore (well to more precise, you do not have your character anymore that could be anywhere). You are online on battlenet, quickly log into your garrison, class hall whatever to press queue 3v3 button in your pvp tab. After playing 10 you are gifted with an epic item and you log your next character. It is not immersive anymore.
From one side you had the developers who intentionally made WoW more and more casual friendly. From the other side you have this new rate of ‘flow of information’: streams, real time updated guides for all specs and strats of the game, smart and well developed addons, teaching videos etc. People developed their own gameplay back than because of the lack of information. Some famous pvp videos were a huge help ofc. Nowadays if you have zero clue about your recently boosted level 110 class, you simply read through the ice veiny guide, watch 10 hours of high rated stream and you are good to go.
Classes were unique back in vanilla/tbc. With hindsight, it’s safe to say that arena wise: too unique. I did not know a single ret paladin on my server that achieved gladiator. Ferals, moonkins, elemental shamans, survival hunters (and the list goes on a long time) were not a thing in 3v3. You either played 2v2, 5v5 or you could barely achieve high ratings and items. Of course playing alternative (but not total garbage) specs like my enhancement shaman were quite rewarding. As an example, on my server/faction, there was only one other shaman who achieved the same gear and ratings that I did. You felt unique in Durotar or in random bgs and the whispers were always there. The gameplay changed a lot throughout the years. As I witness this is widely recognized so I will not waste more words on it. Introduction of new stats, deletion of stats, introduction of new abilities and the deletion/pruning of abilities and all new classes are part of this process. What we have now is a pretty standardized gameplay with similar class mechanics and the lack of customization. On the other hand, people can now play whatever they want, whatever they prefer both in pve and pvp. Patches come and go to ensure that some classes are always top of others so that the scene is somehow kept alive.
Age of the players and a new era of video gaming
I kept my ultimate for the closing. I think it’s safe to say that most people started WoW in their teenage years. These people are finishing university, working full time may even be responsible for a family now. Although the world of WoW felt a lot more closer and alive during tbc I cannot deny the fact that I was 15 back then and not 25. Infinite amount of free time, the appetite to prove myself online, to be relevant etc all allowed this game to be enjoyed at its maximum. I truly think WoW will be regarded as the king of online gaming for a long time. I remember irl that girls who had zero clue about gaming were aware of the existence of WoW, it’s life sucking nature, you had south park episode, early meme pictures of a guy gaining weight because of WoW, short videos with actors etc. In an era where the flow of information and the acceptance of online gaming was nowhere close to nowadays, Wow made it footprint with its 10+ million subscribers and with the nerds having 300-400 days playtime in it.
I think the developers were facing some huge issues around the end of wotlk: they looked around and what they saw were free to play games where players could jump right in and have nice gaming experience after a short learning curve. The developers had the consider question like the following. Will our players remain subbed in a game where countless of weeks, months are needed to get some gear, or if the player is casually bad maybe no reward at all? Will it be ok that some people with bad specs will never be able to do what they want in our game? This is a game after all. Is it ok if we develop instances like old naxxramas where 5% of the playerbase sets foot? And so on. Their answer to these questions led to the current state of WoW. And to be honest, would I be playing WoW now if I had to grind months for gear so that I can play on decent arena ratings or simply with my irl friends without being total garbage? The simple answer is no. I have no time, nor energy nor willingness for that anymore.
On the other hand, it is interesting to see the rise of vanilla private servers and now the announcement of classic retail WoW. I wonder, is it’s only the old player base that is requesting vanilla WoW? Can you build your company’s future on old player base? Or was there any ‘fresh blood’ on Nostalrius? Imagine a 14 year old teenager who instead of shooting in overwatch or fortnite chooses to quest in kalimdor for weeks (beaten to death several times by pulling 3 raptors instead of 1-2) only to realize that lvl60 is still so far away? I’m on the view that in 2018, WoW as an immersive mmo as we know before would not be a viable/future looking product. However, this argument is countered by the population of vanilla/tbc/wotlk realms and the excitement around the official vanilla announcement. Who knows.
I think that WoW was exceptional back then, and currently is still the (one of the) best PC video game(s) around for my taste. People can make fun of this statement but for me, nothing comes close to the arena experience and I think this is case for many people who were part of the arena community for such a long time. Of course this varies from people to people, a purely subjective statement that is.
I left out many stuff from the old times but there’s just too many things to list. People could say that my glasses are tinted with nostalgia but I think the issue here is a bit more complex. Back then WoW was an exception and totally immersive mmo, for which it made to the top of video gaming. Nowadays, WoW is still an exceptional but a casual mmo that is competing for the free time of video gamers in a fierce competition, so it had to adapt. Despite this, I think any gaming company would do prayers to have a game like this casual, downgraded WoW in its repertoire, for which still millions of people pay monthly.
Thanks for reading and despite everything be positive about this game, after all it’s your choice, your money and your valuable free time,