The World before time: original WoW, revisited

Last year, I tried to indulge my nostalgia for Dun Morogh, the wintry original Dwarf & Gnome starting zone in World of Warcraft, by returning to it as it is now. It did not go entirely well – in the 11 years since WoW’s launch, much has changed. Where once this was a slow-starting MMO, defined by long wandering, hard work and a certain degree of solitude, these days its early questing is an explosion of instantaneous rewards and high-speed levelling. I thought that this first World of Warcraft was lost forever. But there is a way back.

I understand why Blizzard made the changes they did. Though never anything less than hugely successful, WoW hasn’t been the phenomenon it once was for quite some time. Remixing its initial hours to be faster, more exciting and a shower of upgrades makes sense, in terms of encouraging the curious to stick around. WoW didn’t birth the ‘collect ten pig noses’ formula, but it certainly popularised a trope that soon became shorthand for wider MMO mockery. No wonder Blizzard didn’t want WoW to be that game anymore – instead transforming it into a carnival of instant excitements.

Babies and bathwater. To start a new character in WoW now is to not encounter real danger for many hours, for levelling up to be a quick shrug rather than a hard-earned celebration, to barely go more than a few metres without being offered new activities and treasures.

Yes, being suddenly mauled to death by a random bear in the middle of nowhere then facing a twelve minute ghost-run back to your corpse for resurrection is not exactly a pleasure, but this arduous structure and relative pitilessness was what gave early WoW its soul. A hostile world, an unpredictable world, a world for everything in it, not just for you.

And it cut both ways of course – perhaps another player would pass by while that bear was tearing strips off you. Perhaps they would help. Perhaps you would bow or wave at each other. Perhaps one of you would whisper WTG? and so the two of you would form a party, in order to make this harsh place a little less harsh.

Perhaps you would craft something for each other or share spare resources. Perhaps you would talk about this and that, about how you used to play Everquest or do you like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah too, or how awful Dubya was or how you were saving up for a GeForce 8600. Perhaps you would become friends.

Perhaps you would form a Guild, and recruit others to it, and they would become friends too.

None of this is impossible now (dated references not withstanding) but it is less likely. The early game, at least, isn’t dangerous enough, the loot and the meta has pushed the exploration aspect into to the background, and there is so little waiting. Organic friendships are less likely because you’re kept too damn busy.

So the yearning for 2006-era WoW is not simply a yearning for lost geography. It’s not even a desire for a simpler time, because WoW is far more simple to get to grips with now than it was then. But perhaps it is a desire for a more innocent time – a time when we didn’t yet know everything about how these things worked, or should work, and so more readily turned to strangers to help us understand and succeed.

To return to that state of not knowing is impossible – I played WoW for too long and obviously cannot forget how it works/worked. But it is possible to return to a state where others’ practical assistance is required; either that or to work hard and work slow to survive on your own.

The Elysium Project is not the only ‘vanilla’ WoW resurrection in town, but it is currently the most popular. Extremely popular, in fact – depending on when you log on and which server you choose, you can face long waits for a place in the world. One throwback to the old days that I could do without, but a small price to pay for how otherwise successful a resurrection this is.

What’s involved is downloading a copy of an ancient WoW client from not long after its launch – before any expansions were added, before even most of the patches and in-game events – then modifying a text file to divert it to a different server.

Finding that client is not entirely straightforward, as Blizzard are steadily ordering copies removed – they have not taken kindly to people playing an older version of their still-active game for free. I think they are mad to not run a paid vanilla server themselves, but perhaps that would be an admission of error and defeat.

In any case, the reasonably adept internet user will not struggle to find the client for long. With that done, you create a free Elysium account, create your character (original races only, remember) and in you go. A fresh start in the old world.

Right now, it’s not just the original maps and quests and skillsets that make Elysium such a delight – it’s also the fact that, herd animals that nostalgic humans are, the early zones are currently full of people. The random assistance and groups and friendships that characterised early WoW is possible again, at least for the time being.

What will happen once the initial swathe of people has hit level 60? Will they move on? Will they go create alt characters from different races, as so many of us did at the time? Will they turn to raiding and PvP contests? Will the whole cycle begin anew, and Elysium gradually updates with expansion packs and ever-more endgame content? In a few years, will there be another Elysium, another WoW vanilla server, to start it all over again?

It doesn’t matter. This is about the now. I have zero intention of (re)playing World of Warcraft for the long haul. I have a child to look after, a household to maintain, a job to do, sleep to somehow sleep and, let’s be honest, hotbar skills and hearing the same out of energy/mana/etc voiceovers a thousand times is only tolerable for so long. WoW can be returned to its 2006 life, but I can’t rewind eleven years of my own life.

All I want/need is to revisit a happy time for a short while, remind myself what it was like, cheer myself with the familiar – the latter itself a sign of what age has done to me, I know. A bit of nostalgia is harmless, but not at the total expense of today’s life and today’s games.

That said – 2006 WoW is a bloody good game. In the time since, MMO development has focused on the thrilling and the epic, which makes Elysium-WoW’s focus on the world so refreshing. The early zones are huge spaces, broadly free from setpiece and usually without much in the way of navigational aid. You have to explore, you have to decide where to go, and you have to walk through a place in which getting killed by a lowly wolf or pig or bear or a little grey man in a filthy loincloth is an ever-present danger.

It’s a survival game, a little bit. Progress is hazardous. Decent cash is hard to come by. Significant gear upgrades are few and far between. You will die. You will have to walk a very long way back to your corpse. Repeatedly. You will have to work to find out where things are, and work with others to reach some of those things. You will have to wait for gratification.

And so I have been back in Dun Morogh, in simple Coldridge and deadly Chill Breeze, in quiet Kharanos and mighty Ironforge. I have enjoyed myself. I have spent so much time walking, I have fought so many animals, and I have sewn a few crude leather armour items. It’s been quiet, it’s been slow, it’s been brutal yet calm. The weather has been gloriously intense – the swirling snow, the hammering rain. For some reason Blizzard dialled this back enormously in later versions of WoW, and it’s taken a terrible toll on an excellent atmosphere. This is the Dun Morogh I missed so much.

(Even the gold spammers and farmers are there, just like the old days. No account fees – no wonder there are queues.)

Turn off the UI and this eleven-year-old game is stunningly beautiful. Age has not harmed World of Warcraft – rather, higher resolutions and maxed-out anti-aliasing make its huge spaces and master-crafted environments sing. A true world to ramble through.

I’ve just reach the level 10-20 zone, Loch Modan, and I know that the levelling will now slow further, that progress will require a steeper time commitment, that I will hit the same few number keys time and again and it eventually will grow tedious, and that nowhere else I visit will ever feel quite as precious as Dun Morogh. An itch has been fully scratched.

If I had a different life, I would keep scratching for longer, but this will do. Thank you, Elysium. You are an earnest and loving tribute to Blizzard’s most brilliant creation. I pray they do not stamp you out.

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41 Comments

  1. Conundrummer says:

    This strikes a chord.

    I was never too into WoW, but played for a few months around 2008 or 9, during the height of subscription popularity. My SO just built her first (own) PC recently, and one of her goals was to revisit WoW, and see what had changed since Cataclysm.

    It turned out to be everything. It’s not “hours” until you encounter difficulty, it’s “never”. There was a single champion early on that gave us trouble (and hope that there might be a challenge on the horizon), but we haven’t met anything since then that’s even put us at risk. Instances and raids seem to be where the remaining difficulty lies, but the playerbase is made up of people who literally rush through them faster than you can even glance at the scenery, let alone anyone who wants to pay attention to the story/lore.

    It’s been an extremely frustrating experience, because everything is based around tiny little micro-successes, except without the satisfaction of knowing how much time/effort it took each character to get 600 in Fishing, or to level 110. And yet the game still expects you to give at least ~50 hours (low ballin’ here) per character to “get to the fun”. It feels like a formula with vastly diminishing return on investment, and the little tweaks they’re doing to bring new people in are ultimately diluting it beyond reason.

    With the fact that RPS even found that the only “solution” is a player-run classic shard, I’m not holding out much hope for the now-archaic concept of the “heavily populated MMO where everyone helps each other and you make new friends through neccessity”.

    • WyldFyr says:

      Your Post resonates deeply with me, especially the last part…

      WoW was a “perfect storm”, a mixing of several influences; the combination of 2 of Blizzard’s franchises, Blizzard’s knack for presentation, and all happening at a time when MMOs were still new to most players. All the other guys (EQ, UO, etc.) had made the mistakes that needed to be learned from, and Blizzard had the right stuff at the right time.

      Minecraft had that kind of momentum too at first, but ultimately was too new a concept, too small a project, and had game play mechanics that did not translate to MMOs well (such as the problem of “ownership” for example).

      But this doesn’t mean a WoW-level event wont happen again someday. The MMO experience as you describe in classic WoW is not dead, but just dormant. It may not happen again for a while, heck maybe not even in my life time, but it will happen again. However I’m hoping it will be in my lifetime so I can come back here and say “Told you so!”.

      :P

    • ThatTaffer says:

      My dear friend, may I invite you to try Final Fantasy 14? It is not as popular as WoW, sure, but it still has challenge and community where as WoW does not.

      I wasted 15 bucks on seeing how WoW has turned out. What a sad experience the low levels have become…

  2. hamsarny says:

    Of all the years I played WoW from beta to the second expansion and some of the hard 40 man raid encounters, it’s Alterac Valley i loved the most. That sense of battle lines and a fight which felt 24×7 that you could dip in and out of without having to be tied to a schedule. As a priest with healing spec I would also end up with a body guard in exchange for being the one who made a DPSer viable against 2 or 3 opponents. good times.

    • Eosus says:

      Oh god those fights when you hit the chokepoint into the bases, either on the bridges or just before those towers. With both sides controlling a nearby graveyard.

  3. Urthman says:

    I think they are mad to not run a paid vanilla server themselves, but perhaps that would be an admission of error and defeat.

    I imagine it’s more an issue of not wanting to split their player base or deal with confusion about which version is the “real” WoW.

    • Monggerel says:

      Personally, I imagine their lawyers recommended transorbital lobotomies as a requirement for all staff members in summer 2008 and they just rolled with it ever since.

    • Someoldguy says:

      Runescape had this problem for years but when they tried launching an ‘oldschool’ server set they found both old and new were populated enough to be successful. Yes, there was some overlap but they’d lost so many customers from making major changes to the new game that recovering some of those to oldschool was worth it.

      I quite enjoyed WoW back when it launched and it lured me back a couple of times when new expansions arrived but never hooked me again once the early levels became a challenge-free treadmill. I love soloing in MMOs but it has to have some meaning or you might as well just click a ‘level me’ button 50 times and be done with it.

    • TheSkiGeek says:

      I’m not sure “splitting the player base” matters when people are already split across dozens (maybe? Haven’t played in a while) of active servers. Unless they’ve made changes in the last year or two you can’t even do cross-server PvP/instances with everyone in your region, only subsets of servers that are hosted in the same datacenters.

      They *have* mentioned that there would be a significant technical burden to maintaining multiple server and/or client versions. The latest client couldn’t connect to a really old server build; they’d either have to support multiple client versions at once or go in and try to fix up the old server builds enough to talk to the newer clients, and that would probably be an ongoing battle as they add new features to the “new” servers. Or make a version of vanilla/BC/whatever point in time that is built on top of the latest codebase, but that would be an enormous project. A free retro experience can get away with things being unstable or wonky; a paid subscription MMO has a harder time with that.

      Blizzard also mentioned they might be able to create some sort of pseudo-vanilla experience by removing the accelerated leveling and some of the other convenience features, but keeping the up-to-date skill trees/combat/item balance/zones/etc.

      I haven’t been playing WoW for a while, but if I did go back, personally I would not want to go back to how clunky most things were in vanilla and BC. And I say that having started WoW after playing EQ, and WoW was *incredibly* streamlined and accessible in many ways compared to EQ.

      • WyldFyr says:

        Blizzard also mentioned they might be able to create some sort of pseudo-vanilla experience by removing the accelerated leveling and some of the other convenience features, but keeping the up-to-date skill trees/combat/item balance/zones/etc.

        Also would need to port the old world map to the new client/server and disable all the phasing, CRZ, and DF BS. I think turning back the combat, skills and talents would not be a bad idea either. Obviously there was some stuff in there that didn’t really work as intended at the time (spell down-ranking comes to mind), but most of it was pretty much crafted to fit.

        I also think judiciously sprinkling in some of the goodies the current game has on tap might not be a bad idea…such as an uber rare flying mount drop or a few ( I said a “few”) cool rare recipes… then again, I’m no game designer and so maybe that’s not such a good idea.

  4. Marblecake says:

    Ahhh. The nostalgia is almost overwhelming. My very first character in the Beta was a Gnomish Rogue. Played him for about 2 hours. At a friends house, because I did not have Beta access.

    Alec, your writing makes me vividly recall WoW as it was and it is almost painful. I’m one of those sad souls that lost school years and relationships to this game, and not because of how good the game was, but because – as you say – how good the world was. It was a bitter fight for survival in a wonderfully, beautifully realized world. It gripped me and didn’t let me go.

    I recently tried it again when WoD launched but bounced off hard.
    I miss the lonely, silent peaks of Dun Morogh.

  5. BloatedGuppy says:

    Ironically, the way Alec describes WoW today…a glitzy bonanza of rewards and breakneck leveling with no real challenge or “down time”…is how WoW was received by Everquest fans when it launched in 2004. The degree to which Blizzard streamlined and lowered the barrier to entry of those old school MMOs was shocking, and no doubt played a major role in WoW’s success.

    Perhaps it was because I had played Everquest extensively (and Dark Age of Camelot, and Ultima Online, and other precursors) that WoW…while still a landmark title in my gaming history…never felt like a hostile, mysterious frontier. It was always the zippy, meta-gamey, friendly, easy to get your feet wet kid brother of the genre. Or maybe that sense of mystery and discovery is inevitably wedded only to your FIRST MMO experience(s), and later titles will always struggle to recapture that magic. You get a little more jaded, a little more experienced, all the seams and underlying mechanics start to show.

    This is why I’ve never been too captivated by the idea of returning to Vanilla WoW (being thoroughly burned out on current WoW doesn’t help either). But Project 1999? I’m often tempted by that. Kill some Orcs in Crushbone. Camp for a Shiny Brass Shield. Fall off the boat between continents and lose an hour of my life. GOOD TIMES. Or…times, anyway.

    • zachdidit says:

      I was thinking the same thing. 12 minute corpse runs? Child please. Try dying in Everquest where your corpse is filled with lost experience and all your gear. Spending hours trying to navigate your way back through monster infested tunnels.

      Games of yore were harder than WoW and fostered more community than WoW. But to be honest after going through all that, I’m happy to leave it in the past. I’d rather new systems be developed to foster community, because brutal time-sinks aren’t my ideal form of enjoyment.

      • Someoldguy says:

        I loved a lot about Everquest but those 1am-3:30am corpse runs because you daren’t log off until you had your gear back? Never, ever again.

    • Arglebargle says:

      Didn’t like WoW then, don’t care for it now. Of course, EQ and Ultima Online weren’t great for me either, and I knew folks who worked on the games. The early MMOs kept me from playing MMOs for years.

      I’ve always assumed the first one you really played deeply becomes the paradigm for your feelings.

    • ludde says:

      Hah, yes! I remember back when WoW launched, it was considered very forgiving. Now it’s looked back on as hardcore.

      Makes you wonder exactly how devoid of challenge current WoW is.

  6. E_FD says:

    I’ve never actually played WoW, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I distinctly remember around a decade ago seeing multiple sources attribute its massive success to the fact that WoW frontloaded itself with advancement opportunities and rewards to hook players early on, as opposed to the traditional MMO slog of grinding through low levels of inferiority and death.

    Just feels ironic that game design philosophy has shifted (not necessarily for the better or for the worse) to the point where early WoW now occupies the opposite end of the “games used to be challenges for serious, non-causal players” spectrum.

  7. Rizlar says:

    The weather has been gloriously intense – the swirling snow, the hammering rain. For some reason Blizzard dialled this back enormously in later versions of WoW, and it’s taken a terrible toll on an excellent atmosphere.

    Another weird change was night time lighting. At some point they decided to throw out the atmospheric blue tint and replace it with nocturnal lighting that shows all the colours and is basically indistinguishable from day.

    With the real-time day/night cycle I guess they realised a lot of people exclusively played at night and wanted to show off some environmental colours more/make it more jazzy for them? But it’s always felt bizarre to me, considering how atmospheric it was to simply walk across Durotar or the Barrens, playing throughout the night, watching the moon rise and fall, listening to the insects and the crackling fires.

  8. SaintAn says:

    Been loving Vanilla WoW. It’s so much better than the dumbed down linear singleplayer story game it has become since they made the lowest common denominator their focus. I don’t want to be the chosen one, I want to be part of a world, so I can’t stand the last two xpac stories. And Legion added sharding gutting out the massively part of the game making it just multiplayer, so even though I’m on the most populated server in the game I don’t see many people or come across random RP much anymore. Legion just feels like I’m in a dead game now and I struggle to find a reason to keep playing since Legion is easily the worst xpac. So playing on Vanilla feels so nice actually seeing people in the world again and being able to help them with my healing and being able to give people buffs when passing by them on the road, and the buffs are meaningful! Vanilla WoW was designed so so well. It’s definitely a masterpiece.

    Sad that the MMO genre is dead and MMO gamers only have the corpses of old games to play on.

  9. harmen says:

    Any tips for games with similarly great world building but which are still actively maintained? Or will this really be a case of “you had to be there”?

    • BloatedGuppy says:

      For MMOs? There really aren’t any. There’s a handful of single player games that have put similar attention into developing worlds over a long period of time, but some (like Elder Scrolls) are already very well known, and others (like Ultima) have aged into irrelevance or at least to the point where only extreme retro gamers need apply.

      The only thing that ever really came close to WoW on the world building front was Everquest, and like WoW it’s gone through so many iterations and revisions it’s a shadow of what it used to be outside of unofficial nostalgia servers.

    • RavenGlenn says:

      Sure, there are still some out there with great world-building that are alive and well.

      FFXIV: Routinely considered to be the best MMO that isn’t WoW out there. The game receives regular sizable updates that always include new dungeons, raids, story quests and whole new mechanics. Also has one expansion so far with another coming this year.

      Guild Wars 2: Probably the best non-traditional MMO on the scene. The game is designed around the journey rather than your typical “the game doesn’t start until max level” design MMOs are known for today. The game’s story progresses via “Living Story” updates which add new storylines and alter the face of the world(including things like ravished landscapes/redone maps and a completely destroyed and rebuilt capital city). The base game is free to play with one buy-to-play expansion with no monthly fees.

      • harmen says:

        FFXIV I never tried, will have a look!

        GW2 is fun enough indeed but I think I missed the “journey” feeling from old WoW. Or maybe I’m just less patient nowadays.

        • Rizlar says:

          No, you are right, none of the worlds feel as convincing. Haven’t played LotRO but the worlds of GW2, TESO, FFXIV are really obviously just levels in a game by comparison.

          Black Desert actually has an amazing, immersive world you can get lost in, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the game as a whole.

    • Someoldguy says:

      LotRO has great world building if you like Middle Earth but it’s another one that has changed the parameters since its creation. Like WoW the lower level zones aren’t populated enough for you to be able to rely on grouping when you used to need it. Still worth a look since you can drop in free to play and check it out. I finally lost interest when they rebuilt how my Hobbit Burglar worked for about the fourth time, but maybe it’ll lure me back again in time.

      The rush to build yet more MMOs seems to be drying up now that almost all the existing ones have seen their player numbers tail off while other cheaper to design game themes have started pulling in big bucks for a lot less outlay. Why spend $50m on a single big gamble when you can knock out dozens of pay-to-win phone apps and see which ones take off?

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      Mungrul says:

      With MMOs, your first love is your true love, so I’m going to ignore GW2 and say that GW1 was a better game for world building.
      The story was very much delivered as you explored the world, to the extent that you could even skip ahead in the story by taking shortcuts on the map.
      Sure, it’s not an MMO in the traditional sense, more a Co-op RPG, and the addition of heroes completely gutted the “Co-op” part of the game.
      But when Prophecies first came out, I made many great friends thanks to needing to group up in order to complete levels.

      Trawling through the desert, only to come across the ruined vestiges of a lost civilisation, weathered and worn statues towering above the sands…

      Happily jaunting around “Pre-searing” Ascalon, soaking up the fairytale atmosphere…

      Braving the snow, mountains and Wurms to cross Snakedance and get to Droknar’s Forge early…

      Don’t get me wrong, I initially enjoyed the second game, but the world didn’t engage me anywhere near as much. While it was cool to recognise some of the geography from the original Guild Wars and how it had changed, I ultimately ended up resenting how little of the first game translated to the second in order to make it more like a “traditional” MMO.

      And the rolling blob of players that accompanied any new event detracted from that sense that it was you and a small group of friends against the odds.

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    caff says:

    Ahhhh, the heady days of 2004 when the public WoW beta test happened. It was my first MMROPG, and I’d never experienced the thrill of living and developing a character in an online world full of other people doing the same as me. I had no idea what they were all doing, or what I was doing, but it was a strong drug.

    On reaching level 60 I realised I knew nothing about the classes, and was taught to dungeon run and then raid by fellow guildies. Of my random guildmates, I knew nothing but they all seemed like crazy Danish/Dutch people, yet they were my compatriots and there was a mutual trust. I wore a pink dress on raids and chatted and laughed with equally crazy Irishmen.

    After a couple of years of this, I got tired of it all. But I cherish the whole experience fondly.

  11. SaunteringLion says:

    “But perhaps it is a desire for a more innocent time – a time when we didn’t yet know everything about how these things worked, or should work, and so more readily turned to strangers to help us understand and succeed.”

    That, for me, was really it in a way. There were no quest helper add-ons when I started (2007, start of Burning Crusade). Leveling took a long, LONG time. You read WoWHead or Thottbot and pieced together comments, or read the often annoying vague quest text and searched. You were thrown in to a world that felt huge–mounts were difficult to come by and required concentrated effort, and were barred until late in the game.

    Things like unique class quests, and the number of specialization talents, and the end-game all felt so overwhelming but enchanting at the start. Playing WoW for the first time was a sensation I’ve never really felt before or since, that kind of wonder.

  12. big boy barry says:

    Very fond memories for me. Helped me get over a relationship breakup back in 05 and I made some good friends playing while I got myself back together again. What made it special to me was that everyone was a noob so the community really worked. That aspect will never be repeated again unfortunately.

  13. whorhay says:

    Slow leveling in Vanilla WoW… that is pretty funny to those of us that played other MMO’s before WoW. I’m pretty sure it took me less than 12 days played to hit 60, and that was without grinding. I played EQ religiously for more than a year before I had a max level character.

  14. Rainshine says:

    I had this brilliant post about how you’re wrong, and modern WoW is pretty nice, and I don’t miss much about vanilla, and you’re wasting your time.

    Then I thought about it, and realized I’m wrong. Yes, modern WoW has a lot of flaws and changes and things I don’t like I could fill a post with. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff from vanilla that I’m really glad I don’t have to deal with anymore. But in the end, it’s a game. If you’re enjoying yourself, great! If I enjoy myself, great! That’s a good chunk of the purpose of the thing! I enjoyed WoW when it came out too — the leniency compared to other games in investment; to this day, one of the things I enjoy is being able to log on for 20 minutes, do something, and feel like I’ve progressed in some way. So go out, enjoy yourself!
    Oh, and you can go a lot slower in current WoW if you want. As mentioned, 92% of the game has been made into as easy as sliding, but the pacing can be all your own. The latest expansion pack honestly feels like it has more little secrets and easter eggs and cool little spots from any point except original release, if you stop to smell the roses.

  15. purpledoggames says:

    Are there any MMOs that enforce roles (trinity of Tank, Heal, DPS or otherwise)? What I enjoyed was the forced social and co-operative play, and the way that 2 players playing well together worked much better than solo play, and this kept scaling as you added more players that had specialised roles. Steam rolling content with any old mix of roles and no communication is how I found WoW when dipping back in over the last few years.

    Is any game brave enough to not really work well solo, that you need at least a tank and healer to be able to succeed?

  16. Imperialist says:

    See, this is the thing with nostalgia, and old glory days…They never live up to the memory. So im a tad torn…as WoW has been two things successfully in its lifetime. Between 2004 and 2008 it was probably the closest thing i could consider to be a virtual world. Everyone in a server existed on one single plane of existence…no phases, very few scripted events. It felt like a place. The gameplay was designed to supplement that concept. It wasnt about flashy abilities, or diving headlong into a hundred enemies. You were just a denizen of Azeroth…just as likely to be buzzard meat than the NPC you were searching for the remains of to complete your quest. It was equal amounts of tedious, and adventurous.
    Then WOTLK came, and WoW became something more…and something less. It became more of…a video game. The mechanics became tighter, downtime was less, and storylines were introduced with phasing and over the course of the expansion pack, we were no longer inhabiting one world, but a fracture had opened and the multiverse itself was let loose. Suddenly, everyone was a hero…narrative-wise, you couldnt aspire to be a lowly peasant anymore. It was all bombast, and even the soundtrack itself changed to reflect this. The Horde and Alliance was at war, again, for real this time…just to give a purpose to pvp outside player choice. Then Deathwing came and scratched away the memory of those old zones in favor of streamlined A-to-B style questlines filled to the brim with awful pop-culture references that, in the old days was subtle enough to not take you out of it all. I suppose it fulfills a different need. On one hand, Vanilla and BC WoW was a world to get lost in…but compared to today’s gaming trends, it has aged pretty poorly. But in shifting away from that original sense of adventure has lost something dear that i feel people will not see in a game for quite some time. That sense of high adventure, straight out of a 60s fantasy novel. WoW is a decent game, in Legion. But its a pretty piss-poor representation of a world.

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      caff says:

      You make several very good points, particularly about the sense of aimlessness leading to early WoW players creating their own world and being able to breathe in it. These days it’s all very slick but that sense of emptiness needing to be filled has gone somewhat.

    • ludde says:

      I’d rather play vanilla, even today. But mostly, I’d want a new game that would take a more exciting direction than vanilla WoW did.

      I think they went wrong very early on with the NPC honor system and instancing of battlegrounds, for example. The LFG-tool and further gamification was just a continuation of the same thinking.

  17. Admore says:

    I loved this article. I, too, loved the early feeling of being in a world more than playing a game.

    I played all the early MMOs, from beta of Ultima Online, DAoC, etc. None had that feeling of vastness, exploration, novelty and surprise that WoW did. I loved that you could wander off someplace that had no value for quests or advancement, but could see a magnificent view that maybe no other player had ever seen.

    I think there’s a real line between the risk of a 10 minute run if your character died, and the weirdly punishing stuff that EQ did. I don’t admire EQ for that stuff, I think WoW simply found a better recipe.

    One I think they’ve now lost. For something to seem vast and independently alive, you must experience that vastness in some way, by perceiving distance or time, or both. Otherwise it’s just another stage setting where you play the game.

    In vanilla WoW the sense that the world was filled with people, and it went on, all the time, from day to night, was true. When the middle levels offered their own enjoyment in their diverse settings, there was a sense of populated places, rather than a set of stepping stones to the “real” game.

    Some things that happened in “vanilla”, like a 30 minute trip from one continent to an isolated spot on another (1000 Needles?) to help out a friend or a guildmate actually has human meaning, or value, in my view. Nothing like it has replaced it. On the other hand, getting 40 people together at a precise time, to perform specific, and sometimes difficult tasks really felt like a job rather than a joy, most of the time…

    Anyway, great article, the one that inspired me to make an account and comment.

  18. HoboDragon says:

    Dear Alec, you hit it spot-on: it’s nostalgia, nothing else. One wants to return to that original thing and relive that feeling, but one most likely has moved on with all aspects of life, even in terms of gaming and not wanting to do e.g. time-sinks, because one doesn’t have that time anymore (if one ever had it).
    I know myself that one argues a lot around “community” and all, and that works great with real life friends imho. Sure, I found tons of “friends” via guilds and such, but in the end they were just that, online-“friends”. In these past years I built up instead a real-life hobby (sports) and have real life friends there. And for gaming, I’d rather play 10 different games in the time it would take me to do 20%(?) of an MMO.

    Think if the whole experience as a vacation, if you return to a place in the world you have been 10 years ago, it might not be the same again and you might not enjoy it the same way anymore.
    Nostalgia though isn’t dead – look at all the “retro” style platformers and RPGs popping up on Kickstarter.
    Though I wouldn’t say that grind is a thing of the past – look at GTV-V online, a lot of repetitive “quests”, yet it is still highly popular.

  19. benkc says:

    Twice since quitting WoW I’ve dipped my toes back in to try out some new content — once when a friend insisted I try out the Goblin starting zone on his account, once when the first 20 levels of Pandas became free — and both times, it felt like a whole lot of spectacle, but hollow and unfun; and I clearly felt the poison barbs of addiction sinking back in, convincing me to step away and not come back. I fired up Elysium last night expecting it to feel the same.

    It didn’t.

    It felt like coming home.

  20. ottovius says:

    Never played WoW, because I didn’t know anyone who played and I refused to plunk down the sub fee on a whim. At a recent job, several folks played Nostalrius and convinced me to try it. I found it intriguing and irritating (so much trollage!) but more the former, so I played until the Great Hammer came down. When Nostalrius became reincarnated into the Elysium Project, I revived my Nost characters and jumped back in. Not going all-in yet, as the threat of legal action from Blizzard looms like the Eye of Sauron, but I’m enjoying it apart from the login queue.

  21. sty0pa says:

    FWIW I believe one of the things you observed about it being ‘pretty’ is probably because I believe Nost/EP is using post-Cata models and skins, at least for toons?