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In politics, Brexit means Brexit. But in World of Warcraft, Classic means… patch 1.12, apparently. The last, presumably best, iteration of Vanilla WoW. When we get the ‘classic’ server we’ll get all four 40 person raids (plus the 20-person-plus-an-apostrophe Ahn’Qiraj and Zul’Gurub). We’ll have battlegrounds. We’ll have the original Darkmoon Faire, and linked auction houses. We’ll have Silithus… we’ll always have Silithus.

What we clearly won’t have is a progression server in the style of EverQuest, where they eventually catch up with the other servers. Opening with 1.12 means there’s nowhere to go except into The Burning Crusade, which is no longer ‘classic’ WoW. It would still be recognisably old school (which I personally define as anything with talent trees and pre-Cataclysm) but the presence of dual-wielding shamans, Horde paladins and space goats would be enough to offend the purists.

That means the classic server will either be a limited time event, like RIFT’s recent experiment, or will stay in a perpetual state of patch 1.1.2, like a fly in amber. A massively multiplayer Jurassic Park, minus the dinosaurs. OK, including the dinosaurs if you go to Un’goro Crater. Also like Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs, what we’re actually getting is the fruit of technical wizardry used to fill in the gaps. It turns out that the base 2006 code doesn’t play well with 2018 hardware and back-end systems, so Blizzard are configuring the modern game engineering to deliver the classic experience – in other words, they’re building their own classic WoW emulator. That’s a lot of work when you consider one more similarity to Jurassic Park – that this is a tourist attraction. Without progression, the classic server has a finite set of content and that’s it. Level to 60, raid Molten Core, get the gear to progress to Blackwing Lair and so on until you beat Naxxramas, and then it ends. Most visitors won’t even get that far, of course – they’ll slake their nostalgia or scratch their curiosity itch, depending on whether they actually played back in the day, and then they’ll return to ‘modern WoW’ because that will keep delivering new content, and the classic server won’t.

That doesn’t mean the classic server is entirely pointless. If nothing else, from a purely business point of view, giving customers what they say they want keeps them happy, which keeps them paying. If they then decide they didn’t want it after all, that’s their lookout. Blizzard are bound to get some interesting technical learnings from the whole project – being able to run two very different games on the same engine, by changing the set of configuration files, is a useful trick to have in their repertoire if they ever want to offer more in the way of MMOs. And it gives them a useful check on some of the design decisions of the last  twelve years – if it turns out modern players can tolerate, or even prefer, talent trees or 40 man tank and spank raids, then the expansion AFTER Battle for Azeroth might just feature some new, old ideas.

One Comment

  1. I think it’s a bit too early to assume that there will be no progression. There could still be staggered content releases for the raids, and possibly some dungeons. Saying that they’ll start from 1.12 just confirmed that they won’t re-create all the re-balancing that took place during Vanilla, and to be honest I’m not sure why anyone thought they were going to do that in the first place. Changing the way Power Word: Shield works three times a month would have been neither practical nor fun for the players.

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