Thursday, December 12, 2019

WoW Classic and Retail: Two for the price of one

With the launch of Classic, a subscription to World of Warcraft has become a pretty good value in my opinion.  Until August it had been years since I set foot in WoW.  In fact I skipped the last three expansions because I didn't want to support Blizzard financially. The studio had chosen to gradually close down a game that I really liked, one piece at a time, and replace it with some other game I didn't enjoy as much.  Warlords of Draenor was where WoW finally crossed a line that completely killed my interest.  The fact that Retail WoW shared the same world, classes and races as older versions made my loss sting even more.  It was as if an impostor was parading around in a suit of skin stripped from the corpse of my game, the eyes of  developers laughing at me through two dark misshapen holes in a crudely tanned hide.

All that changed when Blizzard launched Classic.  I really wanted the old game back (despite what some developers thought), and I have had an absolute blast in Classic these last few months.  Revisiting launch era quests and class designs gives me a keen sense of nostalgia.  However it's more than just nostalgia.  Like a lot of other commentators, I find Classic much more immersive than the modern game.  The stately pace makes it seem more like a living breathing world than Retail. You don't blaze through a zone in an hour, you spend days or even weeks of play sessions in an area, getting to know zones intimately.  "Cruft" like needing to learn skills for various weapons, or needing to visit your class trainer every two levels, fill the game with small events that seem important.  I also love other features that have been stripped out of Retail, like class quests to unlock basic abilities (e.g., defensive stance for fighters, the succubus for warlocks, Shaman totems) and the absurdly deep pet system for hunters.   It makes the experience of playing different classes feel really distinct, and again it adds a series of events to your journey that seem impactfull.

However, an unexpected side-effect of the launch of Classic is that I can now judge Retail on its own merits, since it isn't inhabiting the corpse of something I miss. If you think of Retail as a sequel to Classic, it's actually pretty good in its own way.  Much the same way that EQ and EQ II are both fun games set in Norrath, or FF VII, VIII and IX are all good JRPGs with a few shared elements, Retail WoW is an interesting take on the same setting as Classic. Admittedly some classes that I enjoy in Classic like the Warlock and Hunter have been completely gutted in Retail.  But other classes/ specs that are almost unplayable to me in Classic have also been greatly improved. For example, in Classic I can't stand playing Paladins.  They have terrible rotations and are just generally tortuously slow at solo questing.  In Retail I find Paladins pretty fun. In Retail my Balance Druid is an absolute joy to play (55 so far), yet I was barely able to get one up to level 20 in Classic.

Retail and Classic are different games with different core design philosophies.  Classic hearkens back to much older MMOs like DAoC and EQ, which were obviously inspirations for WoW at launch.  It includes a lot of details that serve no purpose save to flesh out the world being portrayed.  The modern game has stripped many of those out.  In some way it plays like a lobby game that happens to be embedded in a MMO, rather than a MMO per se.  Things like crafting and a world to explore are there if you want them, but really feel like an afterthought in the current design.  The quickest way to advance a character is to spend your time queuing up for dungeons and battlegrounds, and there is little need to even read the text of most quests.  However, that's not inherently bad.  If you are in the mood for a quick dungeon crawl or light questing where you don't really need to pay attention to anything, Retail is actually pretty good.  Somewhat ironically, it also has a slightly stronger emphasis on narrative than Classic.

Now that you get access to both games for one fee, I think it's actually a good thing that Retail is so different from Classic.  It would be similar to getting FFVIII for free when you buy FFVII.  One game is a classic that brought a previously obscure genre into the limelight, and the other is a controversial game with some (to my tastes) suspect design choices.  However, both of them together is a heck of a lot of entertainment for fifteen dollars a month.

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