Roll Them Boulders

My blog roll is filled with WoW Classic posts, and I am loathe to add another one to the pile. But it was interesting to me scrolling through them, as there was a lot of words surrounding the sort of meta experience, but not so much the moment-to-moment or even the “but… why?” piece.

It was not until SynCaine tried to explain the difference between Easy and “easy” that I realized what WoW Classic is all about:

With that said, one major reason why Classic is fun is because it isn’t faceroll easy. Starting right at level 1, you simply can’t run into a group of mobs solo and expect to survive. When you are doing at-level content, you are always at least aware of where mobs are, about what you are pulling, and what keys you are pressing. Now don’t get confused, once you do those things, killing a mob or two is ‘easy’. But that itself is the point; you have put in the work to get a decent pull, so your reward is being able to kill said mob without too much fuss. That ‘simple’ combat is also its own strength; you really don’t want the most basic aspect of your MMO (combat), that you hope people experience for hundreds if not thousands of hours, to be tiring or require near-constant button mashing.

WoW Classic is Something To Do. Which is not to be confused with “something to do.”

Before I get into that though, I just have to laugh. “It only seems easy, because of all the work you have to put in.” Ehh… no. WoW Classic is easy. That rules exist at all does not make it any less easy. Pulling only one or two mobs at a time is the equivalent of Paint By Numbers – the hardest part is not becoming distracted by all the other things you plan on doing later while actually doing the thing you clearly don’t need to pay close attention to do. Notice how nowhere in the description of Classic combat is any hint of “engaging gameplay.” Methodical, sure. Engaging, no.

Sort of like rolling a boulder up a hill.

But that is the thing: it is Something To Do. I miss that. The other day I logged onto Guild Wars 2, walked around a capital city a bit, then logged off. There was nothing compelling to do. My characters are all max level, Ascended gear already farmed, literally nothing else than to grind out Legendaries or achievements or gold to buy Cash Shop clothes.

Meanwhile, gaining a level in Classic is also a chore, but a real one, like washing dishes. It isn’t as though there are more challenges between the start and finish, but more… stuff. Steps. Drag anchors. It takes more generic units of Time. Because of that extra time spent not engaged in anything, the cognitive dissonance is thus stronger and you end up feeling better about your life after completing the task as a defensive mechanism. It becomes Something To Do rather than something you did. More important. Certainly more meaningful than watching an episode of Big Bang Theory or scrolling past page 18 of Reddit.

It seems as though I’m making fun of people having fun in Classic, but I do in fact miss Something To Do. Yesterday I was playing Moonlighter, which is a game where you kill monsters in a dungeon at night and then sell the items during the day, so you can buy better items to do it all over again. Sound familiar? I was racking up some nice coin in the game and then… just stopped. Nobody cares, least of all me. I still had three dungeons to go before the end of the game, but I already saw myself at the end of it, with nothing to show for it but this shoehorned paragraph in a post about a totally different game.

Of course, that’s the other Classic secret sauce right there: timeliness. Leveling in Classic is Something To Do that is also exciting, as though it were a new MMO launch. I have pointed this out before, but Dark Age of Camelot is still a thing you can play in 2019. Same with Ultima Online. My blog roll isn’t filled with posts about those games though, because Classic is fresh and shiny and a game many millions of people have played. Just look at all the MMO posts from people who had otherwise stopped playing MMOs until literally last week. Amazing how that works.

I don’t think many of them will be able to Go Home Again, but if they are as starved as I am for Something To Do, maybe they will set up a tent in the empty lot. At least for a few weeks.

Posted on September 9, 2019, in Commentary, WoW and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. If Classic was straight-up easy, you wouldn’t see as many skeletons on the ground as you do. The ‘paint by numbers’ line suggests you grossly underestimate the average player’s ability, even in a game like Classic where people are now 15 years older. It also suggests you don’t fully understand the difference between just doing something, and doing it better-than-average to get better results. In Classic if you play your class well, in a group that plays well, you progress faster and get yourself into more engaging situations.

    Sure, you can just roll a boulder up a hill if you want (fight greens), but a major draw of the game is it gives you the option to do more if you want. Most MMOs, including recent ones, don’t really have that option built-in.


    • By your own words, you say the combat is easy. And it is. The “hard” part is not pulling more than 1-2 mobs, e.g. painting inside the lines. There are skeletons everywhere because people were distracted (or surprised by respawns) or didn’t know the “rules” in the first place.

      Doing something better-than-average and getting better results is something that applies to Retail WoW too, so I don’t know why you bring it up. There is a much lower risk of death, of course, but you still level (even) faster. In any case, the ability to take on more challenges to increase the personal difficulty does not impact the baseline.


      • It’s (important) shades of gray compared to Retail; sure you can play better in that game, but it matters a whole lot less than in Classic, which is why so many are reacting so positive to Classic vs Retail. In Classic trying matters enough that people actually do. In Retail it doesn’t, so people don’t.

        Plus the only way to make 1v1 mob combat ‘hard’ would be to make the combat system like a fighting game or a FPS, and I think we know how that ends.


      • I mean, I guess it “matters” leveling up slightly faster when leveling speed is slower.

        Hard mobs aren’t ideal for the reasons you already talked about, but a more engaging combat system is not necessarily the same. GW2 struck a good balance, IMO.


      • Difference of option on combat here: I think the combat in GW2 is annoying, a chore, and doesn’t ‘fit’ an MMO, and I 100% prefer the combat in Classic. If you are going to have ‘active’ combat in an MMO, do what Darkfall did, not what GW2 is trying to do IMO. But if it’s going to be tab-target, Classic hits the right beats for myself and, historically, tens of millions.


  2. Ok, so I got pulled into Classic by a friend and we’re leveling.
    Sure, it’s an interesting experience, the same way as starting a new MMO always is because you discover new stuff. I’m playing a different class, horde instead of alliance and it’s sufficiently long since I leveled the first time that I forgot all the details.
    But honestly I don’t see what so “great” or “hard”. I play warrior and combat is trivial. I have a minimal amount of buttons to play with, for the rest it’s waiting for autoattack to kill stuff. Sure, if I pull a bazillion mobs I die. And then go back to the same spot, rez and pull them one by one and they die. Very hard indeed.
    The interface is atrocious, after 10 seconds I logged out and hunted for all the addons I could find. Pitbull works, so I’m saved, but I’ve not been able to get bartender running, so I’m doomed. Chatter kills all the global channels, I’m still split on if this is a positive or negative.
    The gameplay? It’s just like retail WoW, but slower. You take longer going around, you take longer killing mobs, you take longer reading quests (I have not installed any quest helper or similar…. for now). Interesting choices? If there are I have not found them. Talent trees are as bad as I remembered them. A sea of irrelevant +1% boosts which change nothing of my gameplay with some flotsam which adds one button to my skill bar.

    It’s “something to do” and it’s familiar and nostalgic. In “classic” mode my FPS is stellar, so it’s fluid as well….
    For me it’s seeing that WoW has followed suit in the korean-MMO-“fresh server” mode: “we have nothing new to offer, but you can replay what you already played”. It’s certainly netting them a ton of money with the retuning subscriptions, so more power to them. I don’t see my subscription running for very long, in any case.


    • That’s pretty much everything that I imagined, and had briefly experienced in my time on a private server. I hadn’t even thought about the addon situation though, as there were plenty of good ones by the time I first joined in TBC. Which is kinda crazy when you think about it – what new MMO comes out and the first thing people do is download 3rd-party programs to fix all the crap? No one else would get away with that.

      On your final note, I suppose if nothing else Classic silences the people who complained about obsoleted content. Classic servers are a million times better than any sort of forced attunement scenario.


  3. “Hard” and “Easy” are pointless descriptors. I’m not interested in either for any game. For me, what counts is “engaging” and “unengaging” or, if you will, “interesting” and “uninteresting”.

    It’s equallly pointless to try and equate what’s interesting or engaging for you with what’s interesting or engaging for me. We are different people. We have different personalities. We respond to different stimuli.

    I find Classic’s gameplay entertaining. I am entertained and amused by putting my character on auto-run and taking five minutes to traverse a safeish road from one location to another. I like steering him with the mouse. It’s an enjoyable, tactile experience.

    I like watching the scenery. I don’t care that it’s scenery I’ve seen before – I’ve been taking the same walk down the same country lane four or five nights a weeek for over two years and there’s always something new to see. Same in Classic, at least while it’s so busy.

    As for Add-ons, I’m not using any and as yet I havent needed to look up one single thing form any out-of-game source. The Default UI is excellent (bar that font and color scheme, which aren’t to my taste) and the information supplied by NPCs is more than adequate to guide gameplay.

    I could give chapter and verse on why I enjoy or am entertained by every individual factor of the Classic experience – or indeed by any other MMORPG I play. And why I’m not. I’m aware of all of this. It’s not a “brain switched off” process, it’s a “brain switched on”, which is why I’m writing so many blog posts about it – my mind is constantly buzzing with ideas that playing the game is generating.

    That used to be the norm for RPGs, MMO or otherwise. That it no longer is says more about the degeneration of the form than the ennui of those searching for something more engaging.


  4. Leveling became easier over time almost entirely due to player demand. The thing about Classic is that it is 99% nostalgia. No one would design an MMO this way today because all the lessons have been learned, such as how no one cares about leveling and the max level game is where all the action and content needs to be. But for classic people don’t care about this, because they are just reliving the good old days.

    WoW combat is pretty easy because it is so simple. All you can do is target and attack. You can’t dodge, or aim, or block, or parry, or do jump attacks or running attacks or anything else. You just press the buttons and RNG does the rest. You can’t even do something like miss an attack because you were out of range; if you’re out of range the game won’t let you attack at all. So because of all of this the only way they can make anything harder is by just giving enemies more health and damage, such that one set of numbers overpowers another.


  5. If the main justification of Classic levelling gameplay is ‘you can make things tough on yourself in interesting ways’, that’s true in every MMO, ever, including Retail. You can solo 4+ heroic quests in SWTOR. You can solo tough delves in ESO. You can opt to level without heirlooms in Retail WoW, and some content, including later dungeons like BRD and Dire Maul will actually become fairly tricky. Same with the final few levels and fresh-120 gameplay of BfA, when things scale with you.

    I do think, even as a Classic skeptic, that Classic (well, vanilla, from my experience) handles rewards rather well – both by being very miserly with gear and by making each step of the journey feel earned. SynCaine’s right on that. What it doesn’t do, as you observe, is provide much of a point to any of it. And I remain convinced that it will founder severely on the endgame experience. There is less of it and it is trivial to execute (if not to grind preparation for) by modern standards.


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