Tuesday, August 27, 2019

First Impressions: WoW Classic

The big day is here at last! I was looking forward to it so much that I forgot all about it until after breakfast, when I saw this report from Massively OP. I reminded Mrs Bhagpuss, who sounded excited then promptly went back to felting  the solar system (apparently NASA says Pluto is a planet after all so now she has to make that too). She has yet to log in or even make a character.

It was about half past eight in the morning when I clicked the WoW Classic icon on my desktop. Based on previous experience, bolstered by the MOP report, I expected things to be busy. Given that most of Europe probably didn't pull an all-nighter, I thought there might even be queues.

Maybe on Firemaw, Gehennas, Golemag and Shazzrah. The other ten? Not so much.

At 5pm UK time (6pm EU) one more server is High, all the rest are Medium except Hydraxian Warlords and Ashbringer, which are still Low. Thnk I definitely picked the right server.

Login was smooth and immediate. There I was at that odd little camp on the ice in the dwarven starting area, the name of which I have already forgotten even though I was there for most of the morning. It was reasonably busy. For a normal MMORPG these days it would have seemed positively lively. For what is effectively launch day for one of the most hyped events in the history of one of the genre's titans, though? Again, not so much that you'd notice. Maybe it's the layering.

Chat was upbeat and positive. Everyone was talking in full, grammatical sentences, using good English with very little slang. I took it to mean most of them were using their second language.

It stayed that way for about half an hour, at which point some wiseapple announced that the servers would be 80% deserted in a month. Chat deteriorated into an orgy of triumphalism about how superior we all were to be playing Classic rather than Live, at which point I switched it off.

I fiddled about with a couple of settings but I didn't change much. I'm not using any Addons so everything's pretty much out of the tin. With that done I looked around, saw some dwarf with a ! for a hat about twenty yards away, spoke to him and we were off.

Well, almost. First I had to stare in awe at the quest text. It was typing itself out a word at a time! I don't recall seeing that in any MMORPG before. It makes the whole thing take about as long as if there was voice acting, only without any of the theoretical interest and insight a line reading brings to the text.

At first I thought it would be very annoying but after a few quests I decided I quite liked it. For some reason (the arcane thought processes of the designer, presumably) the text only unfurls in its stately manner when the questgiver lays out the terms and conditions. When you return with the hand-in everything happens at normal speed. Probably just as well. I have a feeling ghost-typing is going to get old quite fast.

From then on it really was business as usual. For gameplay, population density was just about perfect. There were exactly the right number of dwarves and gnomes to keep all the more "difficult" areas (the Snow Troll Cave mostly) open and easy to navigate, while still leaving plenty of spawns for everyone. Absolutely no lines needed.

I killed some wolves, I killed some boars. I killed some troggs. I killed some snow trolls. I delivered some letters. I took a mug of coffee mornbrew from one dwarf to another then brought back the mug. This is the gameplay that stunned the world back in 2004? Maybe you had to be there.

I was kind of having fun all the same, although as I played a couple of thoughts kept running through my mind:  "This is nowhere near as compulsive and satisfying as starting on an EverQuest Progression server" and "This isn't any slower or harder than leveling a new character in the free trial on Live".

If you're going to be a delivery guy you have to wear shorts. Now, where did I leave my gearless bike?

Since my mind was by no means fully engaged with the gameplay, which seemed to consist of an increasing number of kills for each quest and more and more drops relying on rng, I pondered over why I wasn't quite feeling it. There's the obvious nostalgia factor: I don't have any. Compare that to EQ, where I get warm fuzzies about every ten paces in every starter zone in the game (Okay, not Crescent Reach). I don't think that's the main drag anchor, though.

Maybe it's because I already do this all the time. Without much exaggeration, half of my play hours probably involve starting new characters on servers or in games where I have nothing and have to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I'm extremely used to having no money, no resources, no gear and little idea what I'm doing. A lot of people playing Classic probably haven't done anything like this for years. I do it every week.

After a good ponder I came to the tentative conclusion that the real joy-stealer for me is the questing. Not because I don't like kill ten rat and fedex quests. I enjoy them a lot, provided I run across them in a way that feels natural, organic and, yes, immersive. In WoW, questing is none of those things.

Now that's more like it. Forest green leathers for that traditional Hunter look.

I remember, back when the game launched, the idea of questgivers having markers over their heads was highly controversial. It was often used as shorthand for the dumbing down of the genre. It was also very successful, as was the increasing use of quests as the prime means of gaining experience to level up.

Both spread across the genre to the extent that it can be hard to recall what it was like before those mechanics existed. WoW Classic supposedly relies a lot less on either than the Live game and it's said not to have Quest hubs as we know them at all. Those came later, or so I read. I have to say it doesn't feel that way.

I did the first five levels in the Dwarf starting area. It took me a little less than two hours, which I am pretty sure is significantly less than it took me to get my free trial Panda, Worgen or Goblin to the same level on Live. Whether it will slow down over the next few levels we shall see. So far, the supposed slower gameplay is not evident to me at all.

I really like "raise on use" skills. but I wish they made a bit more of them.
I didn't even notice the text until I was Level 4.

Those five levels seemed as though they were mostly on rails. I did a quest, handed it in, some Dwarf or Gnome in line of sight would suddenly grow an exclamation point hat and off I went again. I lacked agency and felt it. At one point I was mousing over my xp bar and calculating how many kills I'd need to grind the level instead of questing. (Thirty at Level four, forty at Level six, if I remember correctly).

Other than that, a lot of things were fun. Animations were excellent and I couldn't help thinking the spell effects were bigger and more impressive than I was used to on Live. That can't be true, surely? I also spent five minutes or more watching a rabbit. It had unpredictable and non-repetitive pathing, sprayed snow as it hopped and left a varying trail of paw prints. That seems incredibly sophisticated for 2005. Anyone know if it's authentic Vanilla bunny behavior?

Loot was plentiful and quite satisfying. I equipped all the grey gear, vendored the vendor loot (no little gold dot to identify the trash, I noticed), ate some of the food and wished a bag would drop. No luck. I can see I'm going to have to take up tailoring, as usual.

Who are you calling a monkey, pal?

I trained Track Animals, a skill I forgot hunters had, and found it very useful for all the endless boar killing I was tasked with by dwarves who mysteriously can't leave their posts. I spent most of the two silver I'd made on a pair of vendor-sold pants and a jerkin because they looked so much better than the mismatched hand-me-downs I was wearing. A dwarf in shorts? Come on....

That meant I didn't have the money to buy my combat skills but it hardly seemed to matter. In the first five levels my health rarely went under 90%. The result of every fight was never in doubt and I don't even have a pet yet.

When I dinged five I'd had enough of the trainer wheels. I stlll had a quest or two left but I wanted my freedom. I ran through the pass, which I remember being a challenge when I first played back in 2009. There wasn't a mob to be seen. All the other gnomes and dwarves jogging through had exterminated every living thing.

Train to Kharanos! In a manner of speaking.

I trotted into Kharanos, where naturally someone asked me to deliver something and off we went yet again on the merry round of doing what other people want. The mobs here were a level above me and took longer to kill but there was still no risk unless a bear decided to join in. That happened a couple of times and I ran away, which solved the problem. Leashes are very short in WoW Classic.

I'd been playing for around three hours and I'd reached Level 6 when I finally bit off more than I could chew. I had the quest for Wendigo Manes. I knew full well I'd had terrible trouble with it ten years ago, and again when I played a Gnome Hunter more recently.

Ignoring precedent, I barrelled into the Wendigo caves and started killing. It was fine for a while. The caves were busy and wendigos were scarce, as were their manes. After a while, without me noticing, the crowd thinned and wendigos began to proliferate.

Go towards the light. Not like there's any other choice.

I got a couple of adds a level higher than me. I ran them off but in a cave that meant picking up more wendigos so I ended up running further than I expected. It worked a couple of times but then I had to abandon a kill without looting it. With manes being so rare I couldn't have that, so next time I got an add while the mob I was killing was nearly down I stuck on him 'til he died then tried to loot, even though another wendigo was clawing at my back.

Step too far. The second wendigo stunned me and killed me as I was kneeling down trying to peel the mane off his friend. An entirely avoidable death but one that did make me think I probably needed to be slightly more careful in future.

And that's where I left it. I had a couple of real life things to do so I collected my corpse, legged it back to the Inn, sat in a chair and logged out. Not a bad first session but nothing like the "you had to be there" experience I was hoping for. I wonder if that was really something that only happened at the US launch yesterday?

I'm a dwarf! I drink anywhere!
That said, when I finish this post I'm going to log in and carry on so I guess I must be enjoying myself. I might do my Guild Wars 2 dailies first, though. And log in to Riders of Icarus. Oh, and go do the first of the new Panda quests in EverQuest II.

I don't think there's anything going on in WoW Classic that can't wait.


  1. Getting trapped in the wendigo cave in the middle of spawns nearly happened to us last night. We were standing on a spawn point and pulling distant ones to us when a couple spawned right in our midst. Skronk had to heal!

    1. After I have tea I'm going to go to Ironforge, train skinning and tailoring, then go back and skin the blasted lot of them! Thanks for the tip!

  2. "Chat deteriorated into an orgy of triumphalism about how superior we all were to be playing Classic rather than Live, at which point I switched it off."

    I was only logged in to a character about 5 minutes yesterday, and this sort of chat was going on the whole time.

    It was indeed rather offputting.

    As for the bunnies, yeah -- I think that is legitimate classic behaviour. What makes me a tad unsure is that my memories of leveling alts at that point in the past sort of all blurs together across vanilla, BC and wrath. I did a lot in each (many of them due to server switches before character moves were allowed).

    So it's possible it came at a later release, but I don't *think* so.

    1. It did occur to me that if there was anything they might have not bothered to change from Live it could have been how critters move. Not sure anyone is likely to care. If it was like that in Vanilla, though, it;s very impressive.

  3. I rolled a Tauren Shaman on the live servers, and I've rolled a Tauren Shaman on Classic.
    On Live it took me a day of playing and I hit level 14.
    On Classic roughly the same amount of time has me at level 6.

    I'd say there's very much a difference.

    1. Ah, but were you playing on the Free Trial on Live or on your subbed account? It does speed up after about level 10 on the free trial as you begin to get better quest rewards, but I'm usually in greys until the low teens and I'm lucky if I've made a gold by level 15 or so.

      I also found the fights harder and I died more on Live. I was only writing it up fairly recently when I played the Panda Monk. Part of it is that the Live version has an insane amount of narrative and quests, every word of which I read. That has to slow it down a lot, too.

    2. Subbed account. I'm not sure how I would play on a free trial on live, yet subbed on Classic.

    3. You can't on a subbed account. You have to start a completely new account with a different email address. That's what I did at first but when they changed it so you could log in your characters under 20 on a dormant accoung I swapped to using my old one. Now that's subbed, I can play the characters I made while on free trial but they're just regular subbed characters.

  4. It has been a LONG time since I played WoW (I started in F&F Alpha, quit right after Burning Crusade launched) but my sometimes faulty memory tells me that quest hubs were a thing back then. Like over in Stormwind land, you started at Goldshire, did a bunch there. Had a couple at the farms south of there. Then there was a cluster at the entrance to Westfall, another cluster at a guard tower out toward Redstone? Redhills? Redrock? And so on.

    1. I wouldn't have known anything about it but I read a couple of things in the run-up to Classic where people were statig quite plainly that quest hubs came in later. I think what they mean is the system WoW uses now, where you literally can't get any quests in a new area until you've completed the previous one. In Classic, supposedly, you can explore and pick up quests wherever you go, if they're in your level range.

      What I saw today was the familiar phenomenon of one quest opening up a number of others and every area having a breadcrumb quest to point you to the next. The difference is marginal when you stay in the same area but Iguess it would be different if you roamed around more. Also, of course, at level 3 or 4 there aen;t going be many quests any NPC is going to give you!

    2. With regards to the hubs, the difference becomes more apparent as you climb in levels. The modern game keeps you pretty sharply leashed to the hub, with most quests happening within a few hundred yards of the hub. In Classic, the lower level quests mostly function that way, but as you level up, the quests will start to require more travel, many times between continents or across a zone. It's definitely not a lack of hubs, but rather hubs in Vanilla not being as central to the experience. Compared to the way the game currently is, it feels pretty freeform (and you can pack up and move somewhere else within your level range if you so desire) but it is still pretty on-rails.

    3. Yep, I think that sums it up very well. What I'm rying to find out is if Blizzard re-organized all of that in a specific update or expansion or whether it happened piecemeal over time. My feeling is that they probably started to cluster questgivers in hubs with strict linear progression in Burning Crusade (I rememebr a distinct change of approach like that when I first got to BC) but the old world might not have been properly hubbed until Cataclysm.

      I also remember that the "on rails" feeling loosens up once you get into the mid-0s and above. Looking forward to that.

    4. Ah, I see. I was confused because I've never seen the "modern" version, which sounds awful by the way. Of course I used to have big arguments about how traveling improved MMOs (everyone else wanted to teleport everywhere; I liked having to roam around).

      Anyway sorry for the confusion; I guess "quest hub" can have different meanings to different people depending on their points of reference!

  5. I remember classic WoW having quest hubs, but really poorly organized ones. For example, I remember several chains of quests where there was a big gap in levels between one quest and another. You would do everything you could solo in one spot, and then have to come back several levels later to finish everything (if you could remember to). I also remember that not being an issue until you were into the mid to late teens, the low level game was pretty linear from what I recall.

    I absolutely would sub up and find out how many of my memories are accurate, but I'm completely obsessing out on the hardcore server in DDO right now. I try never to sub to more than one game at a time. Maybe in a few weeks I'll switch over and check it out.

    1. I'm fairly sure now that this is a semantics issue (most things are!). I've done a bit of research but very little shows up. There seems to be some crossover with the concept of a "hub" and the introduction of daily quests, the hub being the place where the daily questgivers all stand. I think that might be what people meant when they were talking about WoW specifically introducing "hubs" at some stage.

      There's also some suggestion that, as you say, the original more "disorganized" (I'd say "naturally distributed" or "organic" positioning of questgivers was rationalized to create a clear (I might say linear) progression path. If that happend with a specific update or expansion, though, I haven't been able to nail it down - yet.

  6. If indeed the 'quill on parchment' reveal of the quest text becomes more tedious than charming -- there is a tick box in the options to allow for 'instant quest text'. I didn't last very long before I hunted down said option and enabled accordingly :)

    1. Ah, thanks! Wilhelm mentioned that in passing in his post but I wasn't quite sure. At the moment I'm enjoying it but I think the novelty will wear off fairly soon.

  7. Its been many years since I've played a below 20 character in wow. I've gone back to classic to recreate the nostalgia with my most-played identity, the undead rogue Cryptography. The really low level zones, particularly the little pre- level 5 kiddie pool areas are very much on rails. Quests and monster spawns are all where they were 15 years ago. Newbie zone difficulty is about where it was, except the mobs are neutral rather than hostile. Very early on in Vanilla many of the monsters in the Forsaken start zone were flagged hostile, whereas the ones in (all) other newbie zones were neutral. This was fixed in a patch at some point. I remember the dwarf and human start zones being even more on rails, but I played Alliance after getting a lot of gameplay horde side first so that taints the experience. The bunny behaviour is probably authentic as well. I am level 6 or 7 now, venturing out into the harsher world. I am confident I can handle the human farmers I know are ahead, but the damn murlocs were the bane of my early existence and I expect they will trouble me some again! I actually wrote articles about this stuff in the very early years of my blog if anyone cares to revisit, as well as some gold making strategies for newbies. I wonder if they still work!

    Anyway, I have farmers and Scarlet Crusaders to murder!

    1. I have just been looking up money-making "guides" for Classic this very minute. I am down to one silver again after blowing all the rest (9 silver!) on the skills I hadn't trained and one six slot bag.

      Every guide I read was utterly useless. Most assumed you were already Level 60 for a start! NOt one had a single idea that wasn't blindingly obvious. I'd be very interested to see yours but I could only see posts going back to 2009 on WoW Decrypted.

      I'm amazed I don't have your blog on my blog roll already but I've added it now. The other one listed under your profile seems never to have been used so I left that off. The last post on WoW Decrypted is over a year pld so I'm not sure if that's your current blog - let me know id you have another one and I'll add that.

      I'm Level 8 now and it is slowing down a bit, but if you factor out all the running and the non-leveling stuff I'm doing, I'm really not convinced it's slower than the free trial speed. I know from experience in the last couple of years that Live WoW at low levels ona subbed account is a lot faster than the free trial and I doubt many people reading this have actually levelled characters on the free trial recently so I'm guessing they are using the Live WoW pace as a benchmark.

    2. yeah wowdecrypted is the one. I've been playing Elite most recently but my written output for that is mostly via the discord communities. Posts most relevant for classic would be from the early part of the blog, 2008 and 2009 in the TBC area.

      The short version is take two gathering skills and sell stuff on the auction house. When you get a bit of a stake, you can flip items bought low on bids then sold at reasonable prices. The auctioneer software I used back in the day is still current, but I dont know if there is a classic version yet.


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