WoW: Classic might be Blizzard's most insidious effort yet to lure you back

Don’t get me wrong. When Blizzard first announced World of Warcraft: Classic, I cheered - I just wasn’t super sure why.

To be clear, I love the idea of World of Warcraft: Classic. I haven’t regularly played WoW much since the launch of Cataclysm. But, back in the days of Vanilla and Burning Crusade, I was sinking hours, days and weeks into Blizzard’s fantasy MMO. I listened to dozens of Warcraft podcasts and I was even crazy enough about the game to spend a solid six-to-nine months playing on the Vanilla-era private servers that Classic is looking to emulate.

On multiple levels, the idea of returning to a version of Azeroth that’s simpler, cleaner and more time-consuming than the modern incarnation of the game is extremely my jam. The thing is - I’m not that person anymore. I don’t have the time to sink hours, days and weeks into farming up gold for an epic mount and I don’t have the patience to wrangle forty other players to hit up Onyxia’s Lair.

That ain’t me anymore. I love the idea of returning to my heyday with Classic, but only as an idea. I don’t actually know how much time I want to spend playing launch-era World of Warcraft - and it’s not just me that’s changed.

Blizzard have been tinkering with the systems and content in World of Warcraft constantly (and sometimes radically) over the years. And, despite the rose-tinted perspective of people like myself, the reality is that most of those changes have made it a better game for more people, one more rewarding to sink your time into. 

Still, it wasn’t until I jumped into the beta for the retrofitted version of the world’s biggest fantasy MMORPG that I really started to actually grasp the larger game that Blizzard are playing here. See, World of Warcraft: Classic might be Blizzard’s most insidious efforts to lure back former addicts like myself.

Though still both popular and profitable, it’s no secret that World of Warcraft is almost-certainly past its prime. We’re almost a decade on from Blizzard’s MMORPG being the nexus that bound together countless online gaming communities. At its height, World of Warcraft was kind-of like what Fortnite is today: a Rosetta stone that even broke through into the mainstream, through celebrity-laden TV ads featuring folk like Mr. T, William Shatner, Jean Claude Van Damme and Ozzy Osbourne.

And jumping forward to WoW: Classic, it feels like Blizzard are rewinding the clock.

Creating a troll hunter and returning to trawl the dunes of Duratar, it felt like I’d never left. Even if the quest design in World of Warcraft: Classic feels dated by modern standards, that’s kind of what’s charming about it. Everything in the Valley of Trials is as I left it, warts and all.

And in the same way that something like Dark Souls or Sekiro rewards hard work and perseverance, there’s something appealing to just how tedious, methodical and sometimes frustrating that classic World of Warcraft experience can be. I’d spend half an hour fighting tracking down a mini-boss I needed to slay for a quest - only to forget that my inventory was full and not realise I had failed to pick-up the quest item until I was back at the quest-giver. This experience made me feel like a fool, but it also definitely felt like I was playing launch-era World of Warcraft again.

And it didn’t take long for the game to start digging its hooks into me once more. Even before leaving the Valley of Trials, I was double-checking to make sure I hadn't missed any of the smaller side-quests in the zone. World of Warcraft has since expanded well beyond the original game’s two continents, but Kalimdor and The Eastern Kingdoms feel more than large enough - the world in Classic doesn’t feel small.

Heading Northward to Razer Hill and Orgrimmar, it didn’t take me long to hop on a zeppelin and pay a visit to the Undercity. There was no quest requiring it but, nevertheless, I felt drawn to pay homage to these old haunts, like a tourist in New Orleans.

That’s just the thing - the novelty of returning to an older era of World of Warcraft isn’t just a novelty. It’s a cunning ploy by Blizzard to get those who have left Azeroth behind interested again. 

I mean, think about it. Classic isn’t being sold separately, it’s being bundled into the existing World of Warcraft subscription. For US$15 a month, you can play both the gussied up modern version of World of Warcraft, and the original World of Warcraft that was. Regardless of whether you actually played during the glory days that Classic aims to recreate, this slower and less elegant incarnation on offer is just another thing that you can sink time into to justify paying that subscriber fee.

If you’re the kind of person who still plays World of Warcraft and has completed most of the endgame in Battle for Azeroth, Classic represents a whole new timesink for you. And if you’re the kind of person who hasn’t played in years like me, Classic is an even more alluring siren.

At the very least, it’s a tourist destination. Better yet, it’s a more time-consuming version of World of Warcraft that’ll take likely take you months to finish exploring - that’s assuming you don’t have friends to play through it with. Above all else, it gets you paying that subscription fee again. And once you’re back in, why not jump into Battle for Azeroth and see just how much has changed.

World of Warcraft: Classic might be Blizzard’s most ingenious play yet to recapture the spare time and (subscription fees) of former addicts and, honestly, I think it’s gonna work.

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Fergus Halliday
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