I can vividly remember that day in 2004 when I built myself a new computer after months of saving, just so I could play World of Warcraft. I had waited all damn evening for it to install, swapping out CDs the moment the prompt appeared. But it took too long. I only had about half an hour to play. I wandered the frigid tundra of Dun Morogh as a dwarf hunter I named Durian (I didn't know it was a fruit at the time) before my mom forced me to bed. Despite her best attempts to ruin it, this was still a defining moment for me. In those short minutes, I glimpsed a virtual world beyond anything I could imagine.
World of Warcraft: Classic didn't give me that same magical feeling. From the 60 minutes I played, the one thing I can definitely say is that I was pretty bored. When I first spawned into Westfall, it was overwhelming having to remember esoteric concepts patched out eons ago. Auto-attacking? Skill trees? Having to actually read quest text?
This is World of Warcraft almost exactly as it existed back in the day, before a decade of quality of life updates slowly transformed it into the Warcraft of modern times. What World of Warcraft: Classic most certainly is not is a portal that leads back to a time when killing 15 boars felt exciting. Just like all those times I dusted off old game disks and installed them hoping for that wonderful hit of nostalgia, Classic didn't deliver—but that doesn't mean I don't like it. In fact, I feel just the opposite.
A trip down read-only memory lane
World of Warcraft: Classic is a stubbornly authentic recreation that will likely turn away many players. Once the retro MMO novelty wore off, I remembered what a cruel game WoW used to be. In Westfall, my dwarf hunter accepted a quest to kill Defias bandits that had holed up in the nearby village of Moonbrook. I'm used to being able to fight up to a dozen enemies at once, elegantly mashing a sequence of hotkey abilities to easily dispatch them. But in Classic, pulling even just two enemies was a fatal error that I accidentally repeated again and again—each death requiring a painfully long run from the graveyard to my corpse.
It was frustrating, but that's what I love the most about World of Warcraft: Classic. Though the graphics and interface look similar to the modern version, there's also a mountain of nuances that make them feel like distinctly different games. Battle for Azeroth finely tunes WoW's reward loop so that even players with 20 minutes can accomplish something meaningful. In Classic, by contrast, I spent 20 minutes just trying to find some dude's wife for a quest that offered an almost insulting number of experience points. And that's just the tip of the Classic iceberg.
Each class comes equipped with a wealth of skills that are cool on paper but aren't very necessary, like hunters being able to temporarily see through the eyes of their pet. Combat feels significantly slower, and there's just not a lot to do outside of quests that ask you to kill a dozen or so of the same monster.
During my second tour of the 60 minute demo, I started an undead rogue and took on a quest to gather mushrooms from a nearby oasis guarded by centaurs. These aggressive monsters were scattered so densely around the oasis that it was hard not to draw the ire of two or more at a time, and that tension was captivating. I had to carefully consider each step I took into the shade of the exotic trees that circled the waters.
Though the combat might be a lot slower, I like that there's a greater emphasis on the moment-to-moment struggle between me and an opponent. I don't feel like a god-slaying badass when my abilities frequently miss or are blocked outright. I don't feel like a hero when all it takes is two raptors to pull me apart like a wet napkin. And, compared to the years I've spent being Azeroth's champion, that contrast is satisfying.
All of these ugly, sharp edges ooze flavor and personality you just don't see as often in modern MMOs. Classic is eccentric and weird, and it doesn't give a damn how many abilities you have on your action bar or how balanced they might be. MMOs in the early 2000s could be weird and misshapen before everyone else in the genre started following Warcraft's example.
I especially love how those idiosyncrasies help create a sense of immersion. Any WoW player can wax on about how flying mounts and easy fast-travel options killed the sense of scale of Azeroth, but those are just symptoms of a bigger shift in design. World of Warcraft used to be a slow game, one that skirted boredom constantly. But that uncompromising pace left you with no other choice but to find some way to appreciate the little things, like saying hello to a stranger you pass on the road. The joy of old school WoW wasn't from how much you could accomplish in one evening, but just the fact that you were there.
When Blizzard first announced Classic, I was ho-hum about it, but I'm beginning to see the appeal. This demo helped me realize that there was nothing inherently wrong with how World of Warcraft used to play, but Blizzard just patched it anyway because, well, that's what you do with an MMO. That ceaseless need to innovate and iterate has birthed a World of Warcraft that is, today, a fundamentally different game, all about rewarding players no matter how much time they have to play in a given week. Classic, by contrast, relishes in the slow burn of a journey that can take months. They're two very different games with two very different visions, and I like both of them.
If you fell out of love with Azeroth at some point, I'm not sure World of Warcraft: Classic will rekindle those feelings. This is not some magical artifact that can breathe life into my fading nostalgia for those wonderful, adolescent internet years. I now realize it was silly to ever expect it to. But World of Warcraft: Classic does make a strong argument that new isn't always better and that, even if something is ugly and janky, it can still have its charms.