What you need to know before playing World of Warcraft Classic

WoW Classic guide
(Image credit: Blizzard)

Little known fact: World of Warcraft was a very different game 15 years ago.

Yeah, just in case Blizzard going through the pains of re-releasing ancient software on modern servers to satiate fan outcry that's reached boiling point has missed you, World of Warcraft Classic is a distinctly old-school experience. Plenty of that has to do with the low-res graphics and splotchy textures, but Classic also recalls an era when World of Warcraft put the 'RPG' in MMORPG. In layman's terms: less of a mobile game, more a get-ganked-a-million-times-in-front-of-the-Blackrock-Depths portal experience.

So if you started playing after Cataclysm and arriving at vanilla Warcraft for the first time, don't worry, I've got your back. I started playing in 2005, and have kept up with every expansion since, giving me a good idea of some of the things younger adventurers should be wary of when they log into Azeroth and discover their Dungeon Finder missing. Here are eight things you need to know for World of Warcraft Classic.

Your class flexibility is very limited

When I first got my copy of World of Warcraft I rolled a Dwarf Paladin. The dream was to become a holy juggernaut, carving down legions of undead chaff with divine retribution. Paladins can wear plate armor, for god's sake. Only one other class can wear that. I was stoked.

Fast forward a few seasons later. I'm finally at level 60, in my first raiding guild, ready to get medieval on the bloodthirsty trolls in Zul'Gurub. Not so fast, says the elder Paladin who's taken me under his wing. I'm told to respec Holy. You know, the healing tree. Not only that, the Paladin told me to swap out all of my strength gear for Intellect and Spirit-buffing stuff. I couldn't find a good healing breastplate so, instead, I was told to swap what I had with leather armor.

Leather armor. 

This was the ugly truth for Paladins in vanilla. The class was only viable in PvE as a healbot. That's fine, I actually learned to love playing support, but my original aspirations were squashed. Today, classes in World of Warcraft are multifaceted; Druids are able to tank, heal, and deal massive spell damage in equal measure. But back in 2005, if you were a Druid in a raiding guild, you weren't doing much more than spamming Innervate and Restoration. Warriors were pretty much exclusively tanking. Mages were speccing Frost. Hunters often wouldn't even summon their pets. You get the idea.

What I'm saying is, do your research. The class you pick is going to be way more restrictive than what you experience on live servers today.

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Beware dishonorable kills

Today, you can kill pretty much everything in World of Warcraft without batting an eye. But vanilla had this weird system where if you killed opposing faction NPCs marked as "civilians"— think vendors, innkeepers, etc.—it would count as a dishonorable kill. Dishonorable kills were really brutal. They'd immediately tank your total honor, meaning you'd no longer have access to the upper tiers of the PvP vendors' lootbox.

Just be careful when you're storming The Crossroads, okay?

First Aid is critical

The First Aid profession was removed from World of Warcraft in Battle for Azeroth. It made sense: it was basically useless in an era where players' health regenerates in nanoseconds. But in vanilla, First Aid was one of the most important assets in anyone's arsenal. Your characters were weak. Like, really weak. And health pools took a long time to refill. So, by actively leveling up your bandaging ability, you were able to tide yourself over much more efficiently after having a nasty run-in with a Defias bandit in Westfall. 

It wasn't even exclusive for DPS classes either. Druids, Paladins, Priests, and Shamans also kept their First Aid skill healthy, despite the fact that they could sew up wounds with mana. In fact, I distinctly remember several high-end guilds straight up requiring people in their fold to have a capped First Aid skill.

So don't sell off that Linen Cloth! It's more valuable than you can imagine.

Stock up on food and water

Given how slowly your resources replenished in vanilla, any successful player makes a point to stop by their food and drink vendor to keep their health and mana pools healthy. You know the fruit vendor that walks around Ironforge? The one that seems entirely arbitrary? Trust us, they had a really important purpose once upon a time. 

Leveling is the game

Nowadays, when a World of Warcraft expansion comes out, Blizzard is doing its best to usher you towards the level cap as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Yes they make some beautiful zones, yes they tell a nice story, but the game part of this game happens after your final ding. That wasn't the case in 2004. Blizzard had 60 levels to play with, and they ensured the process was slow-going. It took me nearly a year to hit my first 60. (I was also a pre-teen and didn't know what I was doing, but whatever.) 

So don't worry about the cap. Don't worry about rushing through the experience. Don't bring 2019 logic to a 2004 product. That's not the kind of gameplay vanilla Warcraft wanted to encourage.

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

Save your money: mounts are expensive

They give away mounts like candy in World of Warcraft these days. You can simply play a game of Hearthstone and have a brand new flying mount added to your Battle.net account. But in vanilla, making it to level 40 with enough gold in your bank to pluck a starter mount off the lot was a difficult task. In total they cost 100 gold, which could nearly break the bank back in those days, long before the economy was inflated past the stratosphere. Nobody wants to be the level 45 guy without a mount. Be judicious with your wallet.

Keys open doors

In the Dungeon Finder era you queue for an instance and are teleported directly to a dungeon's doors. Then you mass-AOE every encounter without saying a word to the people in your randomly-assorted party. This wasn't the case in old-school World of Warcraft for a variety of reasons, but most importantly, newcomers to Classic need to familiarize themselves with the concept of attunement.

A ton of the high-end content in World of Warcraft often required at least one player in the party to complete a quest chain giving them the key to enter the dungeon itself. In Molten Core, for instance, every player in the 40-man raid would need to complete a quick quest chain that allowed them to breach the inner-sanctum of Ragnaros' lair. Wanna do Upper Blackrock Spire? Great! As long as you know someone who finished a convoluted multi-part sojourn that involved mind-controlling a dragon in Dustwallow Marsh.

This is one of the holdovers from World of Warcraft's more traditional, tabletop RPG roots. Like, obviously the bad guys have the doors locked, y'know? But if you're just showing up now, it might take some getting used to. It also serves as an awesome opportunity: you'll make yourself way more valuable to a party or a guild if you have the Blackrock Depths key.

Your reputation precedes you

Today, you can get away without speaking to a single soul in World of Warcraft. The game has been specifically optimized to be a solo experience. When you need to group up, Blizzard will happily reach across realm lines to find partners. That wasn't the case in vanilla. Not only did questing content on the world map often require a party, but if you were heading into a dungeon, you needed to formulate a lineup from the existing souls on your server. That means if you earn a reputation for being lazy, greedy, or incompetent, you won't get invited back.

Old hands absolutely remember what it was like when some idiot ninja-looted Onyxia and had his name posted on the realm forums with a stark warning. Who knows if the same highly-insular community feeling will carry over into Classic. Err on the cautious side, and keep your nose clean.

Luke Winkie
Contributing Writer

Luke Winkie is a freelance journalist and contributor to many publications, including PC Gamer, The New York Times, Gawker, Slate, and Mel Magazine. In between bouts of writing about Hearthstone, World of Warcraft and Twitch culture here on PC Gamer, Luke also publishes the newsletter On Posting. As a self-described "chronic poster," Luke has "spent hours deep-scrolling through surreptitious Likes tabs to uncover the root of intra-publication beef and broken down quote-tweet animosity like it’s Super Bowl tape." When he graduated from journalism school, he had no idea how bad it was going to get.