World of Warcraft Classic is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Time travel might be impossible in real life—you can't witness the Moulin Rouge in its original glory—but Blizzard has given us the next best thing. WoW Classic players have access to a genuine era, with all the NPCs, arch-villains, motivations, environments, perspectives, and storylines preserved in their prenatal form. That is an audacious stunt for a genre that's singularly defined by its persistence. As a Warcraft veteran, I am overjoyed—even though I know I'm probably one depressing Wailing Caverns wipe away from uninstalling forever.
But if you're new to vanilla Warcraft, you might not know exactly what to experience first, and what to really cherish, in this big, brave, untarnished realm. Fear not! As someone who has been playing World of Warcraft for most of my life (shudder) I've crafted a bucket list for anyone new. These adventures might not fully capture the wonder of this game when we were all younger and more naive, but here's hoping for the best.
Fight the other faction in Hillsbrad Foothills
Warcraft veterans get misty-eyed when they recall the endless faction war in Hillsbrad Foothills. It was a geographical accident: the Alliance had South Shore, the Horde had Tarren Mill, both situated on a landmass in the northern Eastern Kingdoms, roughly equidistant from each other. Before battlegrounds, before arena, this is where PvP took place; a spontaneous, useless war of attrition, that's also some of the most fun I've ever had playing WoW.
Today, in an era of phasing and centralized PvP, that brand of world war doesn't really exist on the live servers. But the tradition will be renewed again in Classic—just make sure not to rack up any dishonorable kills.
Spend some time in Thousand Needles
I'm not a petty man, but I do get pretty angry when I think about what Blizzard did to the Thousand Needles. That was one of my all-time favorite leveling zones through vanilla—a beautiful red rock valley marked by towering stalagmites, with a white sand desert waiting at the end. That desert was called the Shimmering Flats, and it was home to a crew of goblin drag-racers who offered a ton of faction-neutral quests. I took every character I had through their 30s there—to this day, I can't think of a more efficient questing zone that's ever graced Azeroth.
Then, in Cataclysm, Blizzard flooded the Needles, and destroyed everything I loved about it. (I get that it was a dry riverbed before. Don't start with me.) Personally, I can't wait to have the Shimmering Flats the way they're meant to be again. And I can't wait to chow down on those delicious, delicious quests.
Do a Dire Maul Tribute Run
Dire Maul was one of the first major dungeons Blizzard implemented in World of Warcraft after release. It had three wings—where you'd dispatch demons, undead, or an ogre clan—depending on what your party chose to tackle. But it also had this amazing one-off variant called a "Tribute Run," where you essentially snuck past all the Ogre bosses to kill the chieftain, making yourself king. I won't get into specifics, but the Tribute Run involved crafting your own unconvincing Ogre disguise, which fooled the low-IQ brutes in the way.
The Tribute Run still exists, but in a level-120 world, good luck getting a party together willing to go through the hassle with you. Personally, I can't wait to witness it in its full glory again.
Quest through The Barrens
In Cataclysm, Blizzard decided to split the unwieldy Barrens in two. From a design perspective it made total sense; The Barrens were a poorly constructed zone, likely a result of deadline cuts. From levels 10 to 25, Taurens, Trolls, and Orcs were each funnelled into a gigantic beige desert to learn the finer points of their class and roles. Breaking the zone up into a couple of different areas was a necessary pivot. Nobody wants to spend their 20s in a wasteland.
Despite that, old-school Warcraft players have a good amount of nostalgia for The Barrens. It was a melting pot of noobs, and its chat portal became infamous for Chuck Norris jokes, Metallica arguments, and the fruitless attempts to locate Mankrik's Wife. Who knows if Classic's Barrens will achieve the same anarchy, but if you're coming to vanilla for the first time, it's certainly worth seeking out.
Witness the opening of Ahn'Qiraj
Blizzard tried something truly bold in 2006 when they unveiled a new raid, The Temple of Ahn'Qiraj. Essentially, each server was forced to grind out a ton of resources to sustain a "war effort," while one player completes an insanely long and difficult quest chain to forge the Sceptre of the Shifting Sands. Once the materials have been gathered, that player hits a gong in front of the walls of Ahn'Qiraj with the Sceptre, formally opening the raid to the players.
Blizzard hasn't tried anything like this since. Each realm opened up the gate at a different time, which meant that if you were in a top raiding guild, you'd watch helplessly as the parties on the other servers gathered resources and started progressing through the bosses before you. The idea of gating off content on a per-server basis runs against the entire philosophy of modern Warcraft, so in Classic, when the time comes, you owe it to yourself to be there when the walls come tumbling down.
Kill Hogger in Elwynn Forest
It's 2004, you've just hit level 10 on a Human Warrior, and you're standing at the far end of Elwynn Forest—right as the deciduous green trees fade into the rolling plains of Westfall. You pick up a quest to go kill a gnoll mercenary named Hogger. Easy enough.
You find him standing on a small hill. You engage. He kills you in three shots. You're confused, because you don't yet know what an "elite" crest means. You go to Thottbot, to find dozens of noobs just like you who are equally confused.
This was a textbook cycle in early Warcraft. In those days, the game would routinely serve up quests that required a small party of players to tackle. Hogger, by far, was the most notorious. He piled up the corpses of so many bright-eyed scrubs, and I have no shame in admitting that I was one of them.
Today, World of Warcraft's world content is almost entirely soloable. So to pay tribute to the Classic experience, you owe it to yourself to take down the legendary gnoll warrior. Just remember to bring a healer.
Do the original Tirion Fordring quest chain
Tirion is a pretty big deal now. He was central in the Wrath of the Lich King storyline, he had a heroic death in Legion, and he almost became a death knight after that. But long before Blizzard fleshed out his storyline, Tirion was first introduced to the canon through a long, in-depth quest chain. You find him in the Plaguelands, do some fetch quests, and eventually confront his son who's been wrapped up in the fanatical Scarlet Crusade.
It's some of the best writing Blizzard put into its sprawling MMO, but it was removed as the years piled on and Fordring was needed for more auspicious purposes. Classic allows anyone to return to the source and witness where the legend began.
Do at least one Molten Core run
Even if you're not the raider type, Molten Core is still worth your time. The instance is an ornery bastard; stuffed with trash mobs on a healthy respawn timer and poorly-conceived bosses with party-obliterating one-shot mechanics. But it is also emblematic of a World of Warcraft you can't really find anymore on the live servers. Before raids were streamlined, before you had a dungeon journal describing every mechanic in exacting detail, all you had was a big angry hellhole, with one of the most iconic villains the game has ever produced lingering at the bottom.