Via RPS:

Blizzard On Vanilla WoW Servers

I’ve occasionally considered talking about World of Warcraft here; it was released in the tail end of 2004 which does makes it older than some of the other games we’ve reviewed. It felt a bit wrong to speak of it as an actual old game, though, given how much it’s evolved over the years. Expansions have brought new places to explore, new character classes and races, new dungeons and raids. Character class mechanics are constantly changing, re-balancing, and abilities come and go. The character graphics have received a substantial upgrade. New features like automated group-matching for dungeons add convenience.

Even the old world, where the original pre-expansion game took place, was comprehensively overhauled in 2010. A giant dragon tried to break the planet, you see. So running around the Barrens or the Wetlands is rather different to how it was a decade ago. The quests are all new, you meet different people, new castles and outposts have sprung up and old towns lie abandoned . Sometimes even the layout of the land itself changed.

Also, a lot of content that used to be aimed at max-level characters still exists but becomes irrelevant when new expansions are released. Once upon a time players at level 70 would raid Tempest Keep or Black Temple, for shiny rewards. Now there is no point; we all charge right past it, and past level 70. The monsters of those raids stand around forlornly, forgotten. We only care about raids aimed at the current max level.

WoW players are as prone to nostalgia as anyone else, and sometimes miss the Warcraft they used to play. So some clever folks have managed to set up servers running older versions of the game, some going back to the days before any expansions. No panda-people, no Cataclysm, no modern easy-mode levelling. Your level cap is 60 and you (or, er, your Dwarvern Paladin) will sweat blood and tears getting there, dammit!

So I guess this is where WoW does start to intersect with our interests here. I can totally understand the pull of returning to Wow as it used to be. I wasn’t around for the first days, what we now refer to as Vanilla, but I did sign up at the start of the first expansion, sometime early 2007. So I have my own memories of the Old World in its original state, and also Outland. I spent several weeks in the Barrens, fighting those damn quillboar and waiting for the Alliance to trash the crossroads yet again. I ran around the dungeons of Uldaman with a group who only vaguely knew what they were doing until an experienced warrior tank kindly showed us what to do. I loved exploring Azshara, with its bleak empty coastlands, before an expansion turned it into goddamn Goblin city.

The game was in many ways far more of a chore back then; endless running back and forth long distances on foot just to complete “collect 12 badger arses” quests, the difficulty in finding groups for dungeons, the difficulty accessing half-decent gear if you weren’t in a raiding guild. The hunter pet-training mechanics were especially tedious.

Yet we old-timers look back fondly on those days. Some say servers had more of a sense of community, back before they all got merged, and group-finders removed the need to socialise. Some also say you had to earn your success more back then, without epic purple lootz getting handed out like candy. Personally I thought the world of Azeroth was larger, more mysterious, before we could fly or leap to any city through a convenient portal. Plus, well, there’s always nostalgia. A hearkening back to those days when you first started WoW, to good times had with friends in you guild, and probably to when you were a more carefree twenty-something.

I’ve often thought I’d like to play on a classic server. How far I’d get though, I couldn’t say. Maybe I’d make it all the way to level 60, 70, 80, wherever they decided to freeze WoW in time? Maybe I’d join a guild of friendly, dedicated people and have great adventures raiding Karazan? Or maybe I’d run out of steam somewhere around level 32, release what a slog I have ahead of me, and realise god dammit I spent enough of my life on this game already! Seriously I could have churned out so many more retro-reviews between 2007 and 2013 if I’d never played WoW. I am not going back to that. No chance.

Anyways, what I failed to mention so far, but you’d know if you read that link at the start, is that is that these retro-servers are totally unofficial. So Blizzard doesn’t especially approve, and sometimes deploys lawyers (on griffon-back, from its shining citadel in Stormwind city) to shut them down. The obvious answer seems to be for Blizz to run some classic servers itself, but they apparently cite a bunch of technical difficulties. I’m surprised it’s that much work to install some old software on a bunch of servers, but maybe the tricky bit is making it all talk to the modern infrastructure.

They do mention turning off a bunch of the modern conveniences that speed up levelling, such as heirloom gear (fancy swords and armour you obtain on one character, then pass to another newbie hero that you create). So you’d take longer to reach max level, monsters would be tougher, you’d have to do more quests and search harder for gear. I guess that’s a compromise worth considering.