I’m still working on my WoW leveling comparison between Retail and Classic (I know, I know, I KNOW), but there’s now hard evidence that a substantial group of people are logging into WoW to play a version of the game they enjoyed 15 years ago. One of the most common arguments I saw people making before Classic launched — an argument I had a lot of fun discussing with friends, though I didn’t necessarily put a lot of stock in it — was the idea that people would roll Classic characters, immediately encounter the difficulty and pace of the game, and promptly quit again.
Turns out, nobody should’ve worried. Classic is popular enough to have doubled the number of people paying for an active WoW subscription. That’s according to data in Blizzard’s Q4 2019 report, which stated that the number of players paying for a month or more of service has doubled since Classic launched in mid-2019. Hat tip to Overclock3D, which initially broke the story.
The funny thing about the Classic / Retail debate was the players on the Retail side of the community who were certain Classic would be filled with people doing nothing but complaining about how difficult the game was. I’d lie if I said I hadn’t seen complaints. I’ve done some of the complaining, in point of fact. The game is sometimes infuriating. It can be difficult to find enough quests to level easily. Some of the shortcomings of Blizzard’s original design are apparent above Lvl 30 in ways they weren’t in the original game.
With that said, I’m still playing, even if a lot of CPU and GPU review coverage from November – February basically sidetracked my testing. There’s a lot of good game in WoW Classic, which really isn’t surprising, considering it’s the game that got millions of people to play World of Warcraft. At the same time, though, I probably shouldn’t lean too hard on the strength of that argument. Just because a game has strong elements doesn’t mean it aged particularly well, or even that people are hungry to return once again to its content. The slideshow from our WoW leveling comparison (1-20) is embedded below:
The real question for WoW Classic, to me, is how the project can evolve from here. Blizzard will continue to roll out content updates for WoW Classic, but eventually all good things come to an end. Naxxramas is the last endgame raid, and while that’ll challenge mid-tier players who advanced into endgame content at a slower pace cough, it won’t keep everybody happy.
I can see a few different ways for Blizzard to handle this. One is not to handle it, and to offer Classic as exactly what it is — Classic WoW, no more, no less, with all of the content and limitations that implies. Another option is to develop “classic” implementations of previous WoW expansions and offer Classic players the option to clone an existing hero on a BC server, move a hero from one to the other (with no option to transfer back), or roll fresh and face leveling from 1-70 under TBC rules. I suspect we’d get the first or second option, not the third, but they’re all possible.
But there’s another path that Blizz might take: Further content development for vanilla WoW.
Remember — original WoW had a lot of content visible on the map that was never used. The entire zone of Mount Hyjal is one example. We knew Gilneas existed behind the Graymane Wall, even if we didn’t get to visit the land. We’d been to Tol Barad and Grim Batol in Warcraft 2. Karazhan may not be an instance in Classic, but it exists in Classic. Even if Blizzard confined itself to the lore of Warcraft as it existed in 2004, there are a great many locations we never explored or visited. There’s no reason why new 5-man or raid content couldn’t be added to the existing game.
There’s a specific reason why I can imagine Blizzard going this route — it would allow the company to revisit “What if” scenarios in a timeline where the Dark Portal never re-opened, and the world of Azeroth went on much as it had before. Even if the Draenei never crashed on Azeroth, Arthas would still have eventually reappeared. The Twilight’s Hammer cult was very much present in the later events of vanilla WoW. There are ways and places where Blizzard could expand the lore of Classic with new 5-man dungeons and content adapted to a universe in which things happened very differently (and, presumably, we remain locked at Lvl 60 and with whatever patch version Blizzard stops with).
I’m a lot more interested in Classic’s evolution than one can typically say about a 15 year-old title, even if my playtime has been a bit lacking.
- World of Warcraft Classic vs. Retail, Part 1: Which Early Game Plays Better?
- Warcraft 3: Reforged Is So Unpopular, Blizzard Is Giving Instant Refunds
- Blizzard Lowers Penalty on Hong Kong Streamer, Says China Uninvolved in Censorship