Do you remember the first time you had vanilla ice cream? Maybe you can’t — maybe you don’t even like ice cream — but for the sake of the metaphor I’m trying to spin, just run with it. You can never recreate the experience of trying something for the first time, and that’s just as true for ice cream as it is for the massively-multiplayer online role-playing video game World of Warcraft.
The original WoW released in 2004 and was wildly popular; the vanilla ice cream was selling well. There have since been eight expansions to the original game, as well as countless updates and patches. If the original was vanilla, 2021 WoW is made to a different recipe with sprinkles on top. It just doesn’t taste the same.
In 2007, the first expansion for the MMORPG was released, called Burning Crusade. It introduced a whole new planet to the Warcraft world called Outland. There were also significant gameplay changes, with a new battleground that allowed players to summon flying mounts, two new races, and an increase in the level cap from 60 to 70.
Since Burning Crusade was released, there have been calls from the WoW community for the option to have servers running the original game. Some players criticized the level cap increase, as it made content for the previous cap obsolete. The original level-60 version of NPC boss Lord Kazzak, for example, was removed from the game and all the items he dropped became unobtainable.
Even as early as 2008, developer Blizzard stated that it wasn’t considering making legacy servers. The demand for classic WoW only became more pronounced after the release of the Cataclysm expansion in 2010 which redesigned two main continents, essentially destroying the original game world. In a forum post from 2010, a Blizzard employee known as Vaneras wrote: “We realize that some of you feel that the classic game was more fun than the current game, and as a result would like to revel in nostalgia; the developers however prefer to keep the game moving forward.” Fast forward to 2019, however, and Blizzard would release World of Warcraft Classic. Vanilla ice cream was back!
Modern WoW now runs alongside WoW Classic. With the latter, Blizzard worked to make Classic as close to the original as possible, though the engine driving it is based on the modern game. As Heather Newman commented in a 2019 review (via Polygon): “Classic is a game that relies on social connections, and all but forces you to find and nurture them.” While modern WoW has been optimised for solo quest objectives, Classic players will need to embrace more of a grind-and each other. Monsters frequently out-level you when you start, so it’s crucial to work with other players to succeed. Ultimately, Classic will demand more time from you, as opposed to contemporary WoW that has evolved to be more accessible to people with less time to invest.
Blizzard has announced a beta testing period for the Burning Crusade Classic, their re-release of the first WoW expansion. Players who have opted-in, and have been randomly chosen, will be able to participate and provide feedback. Having been burnt before over contentious expansions, this time Blizzard is maintaining the vanilla servers. However, the evolving nature of online games like WoW means that retaining any kind of ‘original’ experience is as difficult as stopping that beloved ice cream from melting on a hot day.
A good indication of this is the recent formation of a group in Classic called ‘The Fresh Crusade’. This community aimed to fill one of the least populated servers, and in the process avoid maximum-level players and bots. Funnily enough, The Fresh Crusade proved so popular that players ended up forming long queues waiting for an NPC to respawn — it’s as if Classic has become a museum exhibition of itself.
The long wait for an official vanilla WoW is over. Or is it? The release of the Burning Crusade Classic Beta heralds another change in the World of Warcraft legacy that will no doubt lead to new controversy over its departure from an older experience. More than that, it’s not just WoW that has changed over the last 14 years — the players have as well. Burning Crusade Classic can provide a portal to Outland, but it can’t send us back to 2007.
Article author: Florence Smith Nicholls can be found on Twitter via @florencesn