I hadn't really planned on playing WoW Classic at launch—I already spend a good chunk of my spare time in modern Warcraft and I wasn't eager to sign up for another serious grind. But as the Classic launch loomed and I saw the majority of my Battle.net friends make the switch, I figured I'd jump in and see what all the fuss was about.
I love Azeroth, along with its history—I got ridiculously excited when I first heard the voice of Arthas confronting King Terenas in the throne room at the Ruins of Lordaeron. And as I played through the first few levels of my undead priest in Classic, it struck me that it would be fun to go back (forward?) to modern Warcraft and level the same race and class to level 10, without the aid of addons, heirlooms or mounts, to see how much things have changed.
Note: Click on the arrows in the top-right corner of the various screenshots throughout this article for a larger view.
"I am Forsaken."
If you choose to level an undead in Classic, you'll spawn inside the Shadow Grave, a lonely crypt at the top of the graveyard in Deathknell. You'll find your first quest when you speak to Undertaker Mordo outside and this will lead you to the church to meet with Shadow Priest Sarvis who gives you your first 'kill' quest.
Modern Warcraft differs slightly; Instead of spawning inside the crypt, you 'awaken' lying in front of the Val'kyr Agatha. You'll notice a number of Val'kyr now patrol around the graveyard that aren't present in Classic, presumably due to the events that immediately follow the Lich King's demise at Icecrown Citadel. Once you've accepted the quest from Agatha, you're sent to speak with Undertaker Mordo who sends you to fetch a couple of items from inside the Shadow Grave—a nod to Classic's spawn point—before giving you your first kill quest.
In both Classic and modern Warcraft your only damaging spell is Smite at level 1 and each enemy takes around the same number of casts to defeat, assuming they don't resist. In Classic, Smite has a significant mana cost so each enemy will drain your mana to around half, resulting in some downtime.
Skill-wise, Classic lets you purchase Power Word: Fortitude—oof, that mana cost—at level 1 and both Shadow Word: Pain and Lesser Heal Rank 2 are available at level 4. In modern Warcraft, Shadow Word: Pain is automatically added to your skill book at level 3 and you'll get Flash Heal at level 5. You'll also find that you won't need to stop by a vendor to sell your grey items quite as frequently, if at all. You start with the same backpack size, but modern Warcraft has fewer junk drops.
Surprisingly, I was level 5 in both versions when it came time to move on so I waved goodbye to Deathknell and made my way out into Tirisfal Glades.
Life after Deathknell
You'll notice the first of the major geographical changes almost immediately when you step through the gates of Deathknell. In Classic, you pick up a quest from Deathguard Simmer who is standing near a signpost on the road to Brill. In modern Warcraft, you'll notice that Simmer has relocated a short distance to the newly built Calston Estate—comfortingly, he still gives you the same 'Fields of Grief' quest to collect pumpkins as the Classic version. Gordo is also here instead of patrolling the road nearer Brill and he no longer seems to be raging randomly at Gloom Weed.
The journey to Brill is largely the same, though you'll find that Coldwater Pond has grown quite substantially and almost reaches the road. Deathguard Dillinger—who offers the quest 'A Putrid Task' in both versions—is located on the near side of the bridge in modern Warcraft, rather than just outside of Brill.
It's also around this point in Classic that you'll start to notice that enemies start to take longer to kill and can interrupt or delay your spell-casts if they get too close and start hitting you. One enemy is manageable but if you happen to pull more, you'll struggle to get a cast out and can easily drain your mana before you manage to kill anything. There is a similar 'knock-back' effect in modern Warcraft but it's much less intrusive and doesn't really pose a problem to your survivability.
Brill and beyond
The small town of Brill is where you'll see the biggest changes. The quaint inn and town hall from Classic—which modern players now associate with Alliance architecture—are gone and in their place are imposing buildings, grim plague machines, and a fairly impressive statue of Sylvanas Windrunner. Many of the original NPCs remain in modern Warcraft and you can find Magistrate Sevren upstairs at the inn and Zygand is still hanging out on his horse outside. The lone zeppelin tower from Classic has been expanded to two towers in modern Warcraft.
I checked out all the major quest areas that I'd visited in Classic and found that, aside from the addition of the Calston Estate and Brill's revamp, the geography of Tirisfal Glades remains largely the same in both versions. A few quests remain unchanged while others have slight variations, such as the location of the NPCs that give them or the number of enemies you need to kill.
Of course, I couldn't possibly explore Tirisfal Glades without checking to see if Invincible's grave is in Classic. It isn't—I'm sure there's a joke there somewhere—but the Balnir Farmstead is present and largely correct.
Best in class(ic)
The biggest differences I found between leveling in Classic and modern Warcraft at this level aren't the changes to Tirisfal Glades as I'd expected. It wasn't the lack of bag space, or even having to purchase your skills. For me, the mana usage that's present in Classic had the biggest impact. The combat itself isn't really that different but running out of mana is a real danger if you pull more than one enemy or don't let mana regenerate fully between pulls. This adds significantly to the time it takes to do quests in Classic—though I suspect even that wouldn't be such an issue if you're leveling with a friend rather than solo.
Here's a breakdown of some of my findings as I leveled:
Quests completed: 31 (probably much lower than modern Warcraft due to the obscenely low drop rate of some fetch quests)
Currency: 37s 41c
Bags looted: 1 x 6-slot bag
Skills: Smite (starting skill), Lesser Heal (starting skill), Power Word: Fortitude (level 1), Shadow Word: Pain (level 4), Power Word: Shield (level 6), Renew (level 8), Fade (level 8).
Quests completed: 44
Currency: 59s 43c (no need to purchase skills!)
Bags looted: 3 x 6-slot bags
Skills: Smite (starting skill), Shadow Word: Pain (level 3), Flash Heal (level 5), Power Word: Shield (level 8).
Leveling from 1 - 10 on one character is obviously just a small slice of either version of the game and doesn't attest to the differences between the rest of the leveling or the endgame experience but nonetheless, I was surprised at how similar they were. Aside from the geographical and quest changes brought on by subsequent expansions, it's not as different as I expected. Especially once you strip out all of the optional 'quality of life' improvements such as addons, mounts, and heirlooms that we all seem to rely so heavily on these days.
You can check out more comparison screenshots below (click on the arrows in the top-right corner for a larger view):