It feels like I’m home for the first time in years. World of Warcraft Classic’s closed beta went live on May 15, taking the popular MMORPG back to its roots. I’ve already written my hands-on impressions of Classic, but the last few months have provided an opportunity to dig deeper.
I went into the closed beta expecting a slow and arduous grind on the way to the current level cap of 30, but a funny thing happened as I worked my Paladin through Elwynn Forest and Westfall. I found myself enjoying World of Warcraft more than I have in years. In fact, I’ve enjoyed it so much that I haven’t logged into Battle for Azeroth since the beta released.
So what exactly is it that makes this 15-year-old game so much more engaging than the current retail version of WoW? Here are five reasons why I’m enjoying World of Warcraft Classic more than Battle for Azeroth:
Loot Upgrades Feel Exciting Again
In modern World of Warcraft, epic-quality gear basically falls from the sky. You can get purples from raids, dungeons, world quests, and other activities. This is the loot concept that Blizzard has followed for many years now. It’s relatively easy to get decked out in full epic gear even as a casual player. Because of this, many players will tell you that while winning new loot is still exciting, the concept of “epics” just isn’t as big of a deal as it used to be. It’s even possible to win an epic and feel disappointed if the loot doesn’t “Titanforge,” which is Blizzard’s RNG system that allows drops to randomly roll a higher level.
I haven’t earned a single epic during the Classic beta and I likely won’t unless I’m allowed to level beyond the current cap of 30. But I can tell you that I’ve felt better about looting green (uncommon) and blue (rare) pieces than anything I’ve received in the live game in a long time. That’s because good loot is actually hard to get in the original World of Warcraft. Every new piece you acquire feels like a big accomplishment and there are certain pieces you get while leveling that you might actually use for a long time. You won’t go through gear so quickly in Classic.
There’s also something to be said about knowing how to get your “best in slot” items. I’ve watched some of the bigger WoW streamers on Twitch work for the best possible gear they can get at the current level 30 cap, and finally landing that Whirlwind Axe or other best in slot piece is an exciting moment. The lack of Titanforging gives players a clear list of goals to tackle and a sense of satisfaction when that task is complete. You don’t have to keep running the same raid or dungeon or World Quest over and over hoping for a Titanforge that results in a 5 item-level bump.
I imagine this sense of accomplishment and hard work finally paying off will feel even better at Level 60, when players down a raid boss and become one of just two people in their 40-man raid to get a shiny new epic. The increased scarcity of loot and increased difficulty of acquiring it makes the Classic gearing experience engaging and exciting from the very first level.
Every Battle Requires Focus If You Want to Live
Every single class in Battle for Azeroth is capable of fighting multiple mobs at the same time out in the open world without breaking a sweat. Most dungeons are an AOE-spam fest, even those run at Mythic Plus difficulty. In short, it’s quite difficult to die in the live retail game unless you are running something like a Mythic-level raid. Most of BFA’s content doesn’t really pose a threat to your leveled-up character, otherwise.
Contrast that with my first trip into the Fargodeep Mine in Classic. I pulled one Kobold and began auto-attacking it down. (Hey, Paladins can’t really do much at Level 7.) Suddenly, another Kobold appeared from a tunnel off to the right while the first mob was still at 50 percent health. All of a sudden, it was my own health pool that was taking a sharp plunge. I pulled off a heal and managed to kill the first Kobold, but I ended up turning around and running away from the second one. And again, this was at LEVEL 7. I had my behind handed to me by KOBOLDS, of all things. But instead of being upset or feeling bad about it, I actually had a huge smile on my face.
The leveling experience in WoW has been broken for a very long time, thanks to nerfed mob health pools, Heirloom gear, and more powerful spells and abilities that have been added to the game over the years. Plenty of players level to 120 in Battle for Azeroth with Netflix open on a second monitor. World of Warcraft Classic demands your full attention on every pull. One mob is doable, but two is trouble. Three mobs? Enjoy your long run back from the graveyard.
This same concept applies to dungeons as well. Even the Deadmines can quickly turn, well, deadly if your tank accidentally aggroes too much or your healer gets targeted by a patrol coming from behind. Crowd control, remember that? Class abilities like polymorph and sap are actually useful again on just about every pull.
The Harder Difficulty Forces Players to Work Together
All of this newfound difficulty also brings with it another welcome side effect: players are actually talking to each other again. In Battle for Azeroth, pretty much all content out in the world can be done solo. Even if there is a quest that requires a group, players usually come together in the group finder, kill the elite mob, and then drop the group without uttering a word in party chat. This same mentality applies to most dungeon runs, thanks to the Dungeon Finder tool. Players can just click a button to be instantly teleported to a five-man dungeon with four random people. There’s little reason to talk to anyone as you are AOE-spamming everything down. Kill the final boss, drop group, and repeat.
In Classic, communication is a means of survival. There are multiple quests in every zone that require groups to complete. Even if you’re not on a difficult quest, you still might want to party up with that mage you see running through the same location as you because two players have a much better chance of surviving a fight.
When looking for a dungeon group, you have to actually look for the group yourself in General or Trade Chat. The slower pace of group assembly and then actually having to travel to the dungeon together gives everyone plenty of time to start chatting and form a bit of camaraderie before the dungeon begins.
I don’t even remember the last time I had an extended conversation with someone not in my guild in Battle for Azeroth. In Classic, I’ve already added quite a few people to my friends list and grouped up for hours at a time with many of them. In short, Classic’s design encourages players to actively engage with each other, making World of Warcraft actually feel like an MMO again.
The World Feels Large and Epic
When World of Warcraft launched, it shipped with two continents-worth of content between Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms. Players were spaced out all over the map and traveling from one zone to another for the first time felt like an amazing accomplishment. Blizzard has continued adding new continents with each new expansion, but the end result usually sees players focusing on only a handful of new zones, with most of the old zones from the previous expansions becoming obsolete. This is no longer the case with the return of Classic. Every zone in the game has a story worth playing.
It’s also much more difficult to travel in Classic than in Battle for Azeroth. Players in the retail game get their first mount by level 20, a flying mount by level 60, and have a multitude of portals in the capital cities that can quickly zip them all over the map. Classic has no flying mounts or portals and doesn’t give players their first slower mount until level 40. This means every player currently in the beta is forced to run everywhere on foot, making each zone feel so much larger. The lack of flying mounts means you frequently see other players running around on foot instead of flying over your head out of sight. Classic makes Azeroth feel alive again, with players constantly wondering what or who is waiting around the next bend.
Classic WoW Has the Real “Battle for Azeroth”
Battle for Azeroth’s primary story is about the battle between forces of the Alliance and the Horde. While Blizzard has tried its best to rile up some animosity between the factions, Classic players don’t need an excuse (like a burned tree) to start killing each other.
World PvP is alive and well for the first time in many years in the Classic beta. Southshore vs. Tarren Mill is back and just as fun as you remember, as are the spontaneous battles at the Gurubashi Arena in Stranglethorn Vale. I’m playing on the beta’s PvP server, and players of both factions seem eager to cause trouble for the other side to a much higher degree than what I’ve experienced in Battle for Azeroth, even with the retail game’s World PvP system turned on. The lack of flying mounts means there’s nowhere to run, nowhere to hide when the other faction sends a full raid group right into your favorite city or town.
The closed beta has only been live for about two weeks, long enough for me to know that Blizzard is on to something with this blast from the past. The harder difficulty and fewer conveniences may turn some gamers off. But for the nostalgic, Classic may mean falling love with World of Warcraft’s original charm all over again.
World of Warcraft Classic is out now.
Jason M. Gallagher is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.