Nostalgia and Other Reasons to Play Vanilla

First off, let me direct you to this excellent article by Bree from Massively Overpowered on what is and isn't nostalgia.

I started playing on Kronos due to nostalgia, there's no doubt about it. I just wanted to see old Azeroth again. But as the above article says, nostalgia isn't what keeps you around. I stayed because I was actually having fun again.

In fact, too much nostalgia is probably a bad thing. I'm pretty sure it's a major reason I haven't really gotten into playing my priest alt. Playing her reminds me way too much of the aspects of my original WoW experience that I can't really recreate: being a student with seemingly endless amounts of free time, having friends that levelled with me the entire time, the fun we had together.

In hindsight I think that recreating my pally instead was definitely a very good choice. Since she never got very far in retail, playing her hasn't so much been an attempt to relive the past as a trip to an alternate universe where I never re-rolled night elf. How would things have gone if I had continued to level as a human paladin? Well, now I can at least find out what the game would have had in store for me...

As I said, levelling has been fun again. Even though old Azeroth isn't new to me anymore, there were many things that I'd forgotten. I love just how "worldly" everything feels. I used to find those quests annoying that send you all over the place, but it just feels more natural now that I've seen the alternative. Sure, in some ways it is annoying when the quest giver in Booty Bay sends you all the way up to Dalaran just to talk to a mage, but it's at least equally nonsensical when everyone and everything needed to solve an issue has been within a one hundred metre radius the entire time but nobody thought of talking to the guy over there or picking up that box from around the corner until you arrived.

The longer-lasting fights out in the world highlight the strengths and weaknesses of different mob types vs. different classes, while the higher mob density and increased danger posed by enemies in general force you to pay attention to your environment. You spend enough time in each zone to learn all its ins and outs and get opportunities to meet people. Professions require work and gaining stats is meaningful. When you get a buff or a new gear piece, you can really feel the difference in power it makes! Everything just flows together to create a great experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that some people, even among those who play on private servers, think that Vanilla levelling was crap.

Just one example I saw on YouTube. Click to enlarge and read.

My first reaction the first time I saw someone state this in chat was one of shouting "Blasphemy!", but this was soon replaced by intrigue. If they don't like the levelling, what other reasons do people have to love Vanilla? I certainly can't think of any from personal experience, as I didn't engage in much PvP or endgame PvE myself back in 2006.

One thing that surprised me is that apparently there is a considerably-sized community that loves and misses Vanilla's 20- and 40-man raiding. Kronos has a built-in boss kill tracker... just look at all those bosses being killed in real time, and that number is only going to go up once all the Nost refugees level up! It's funny because more recently large group raiding like this has earned a bad reputation, and a lot of Wildstar's troubles to retain players for example were blamed on its attempts to revive 40-man raiding. After seeing how things go down on Kronos, I'm confident in saying that the inclusion of 40-man raids by itself can't have been the game's issue. Hell, I'm willing to bet there are more people doing 40-man raids on private Vanilla WoW servers than in Wildstar even now. Why? Well, this video from Preach Gaming gives five reasons why the format was and is beloved by many:

(In fairness, he also has a video called "Top 5 Reasons 40 Man Raiding Sucked", showing the other side of the coin.)

Finally, there is PvP, which surprised me even more, because while I've seen a fair amount of negative comments about 40-man raiding, I've met even fewer people who had anything good to say about Vanilla's PvP. Classes weren't balanced, gear wasn't balanced, the grind for PvP ranks was only good for no-lifers. And who really misses Warsong Gulch matches that lasted forever?

Well, apparently there are a fair amount of people who do miss Vanilla PvP. While there are purists who say that world PvP died the moment battlegrounds were introduced, most will agree that it was generally still a thing at least on a smaller scale until flying was introduced. I reckon that few would admit it, but I think a lot of people also liked the imbalances, which is why so many Vanilla servers are flooded with warriors, mages and rogues. If your goal is to pwn noobs, being able to get an advantage right from the point of character creation is appealing. Put in a slightly less inflammatory manner to PvPers: they liked that not everyone was equal, that making the right choices and putting in extra work was very rewarding in terms of the advantages it gave you. To quote player Aieris from a thread on the Kronos forums on the subject:

You are realy [sic] rewarded for your grind effort. I (as rogue) was useless in PvP without any preparation. Blind/Vanish 5min CD and then what? Kited like hell. Then i farmed Thistle Tea, Free Action Potions, Engineering, trinkets and it got far more better.

Other reasons I've seen cited by people loving Vanilla's PvP are: gear being the same in PvE and PvP (meaning that it was easier to move between the two game modes and made the individual gear pieces more valuable), long AV matches feeling epic (personally I haven't experienced anything like that even on Kronos; I think it required people to be less knowledgeable about what they were doing than they are now, therefore causing the game to stall), and the classes' limitations making combat more straightforward (e.g. not everyone having an interrupt, heals or whatever).

Overall, this has really driven home the point for me that Vanilla WoW managed to offer an experience that appealed to different groups of people for very different reasons, even if there are certain common threads running through the whole thing (such as the need for greater investment being rewarded and getting to know people more naturally during gameplay). Everyone had their parts that they didn't like or at least didn't care about, but what they did like they loved so much that tolerating the downsides was worth it. It's noteworthy that this goes counter to the attitude that gets promoted more recently, that MMOs should just focus on their particular niche and cater solely to that audience.

Yes, things were different ten years ago. But it's remarkable how much of it still works.


  1. Great write-up.
    Thank you!

  2. Hm, reasons to stick to Classic. Allow me to add my own: dungeons. As in "any instanced event that isn't tuned for groups of 20+ people". Oh, I liked the BC heroics - specifically their "not yet butchered" pre-2.1 versions. I liked them a lot, but for different reasons than liking Classic dungeons. The latter are, by and large, the most remarkable paradigm that Blizzard ever used for their pre-raid PvE content.

    Sure, Classic does have "dungeons on rails", as I jokingly call them. Look at the starter ones: RFC (completely linear), WC (mostly linear, although there's still a choice to be made as to the order of killing the druids; the sole optional content is Kresh), DM (mostly linear, only has Cookie and the rare spawn, Miner Johnson, as optional content), The Stockade (completely "linear", technically, as every group that runs it kills everything in there), SFK (completely linear), BFD (completely linear, although every boss other than Kelris is optional), RFK (completely linear for Alliance, although every boss other than the rare spawn, Halmgar, is optional; Horde has the logistical advantage/option of being able to do Ramtusk runs). However, even some of these "lesser" dungeons will offer the choice of content. One may simply opt to do all WC/DM quests in a single run at level ~20, another one will make good use of the possibility to complete the pre-entrance quests at level 15-16 by tagging along 1-2 friends/guildmates.

  3. (cont)

    People like to reminisce the 6h long epic voyages through BRD, but the fact of the matter is that those (in)famous runs were an aberration which only happened a decade ago, when most people were utterly clueless. A full BRD clear only takes 3-4h (at level 55+, because level ~50 folks simply cannot kill everything in there), but doing a full clear is definitely a case of "doing it wrong", as it follows. You can do "arena runs" at level 52+ (Ring of Law, with or without Roccor), you can do a "key/quest run" at level 52-54 (Bael'gar/Incendius/Fineous/Loregrain/tavern, although most groups will append the arena event to it), Alliance players can do a "Jail Break run" at level ~55 (most groups also append A Shred of Hope to it), you can do "Emperor runs" at level 55+ (either by jumping into the lava, or by taking the longer Angerforge/Argelmach/tavern/The Seven route; both routes include Magmus), you can do "challenge runs" at level 60. Some people do "attunement runs" without killing a single boss in there, miners and enchanters do "forge runs", blacksmiths do anvil runs". As for LBRS, my favorite dungeon throughout the entire history of WoW, one can skip bosses freely (killing the end-boss, Wyrmthalak, only requires killing Smolderweb, and potentially Crystal Fang too, a rare spawn), can skip entire parts of the dungeon due to its very layout. All of Blackrock Spire with its intricate vertical expansion is, along the aforementioned BRD, the pinnacle of dungeon design, mindbogglingly awesome layouts which haven't been matched ever again, despite being a decade old.

    1. (cont)

      However, there is more to it, more than just having the possibility to choose what to kill and what to skip, what to do and what to avoid doing. Classic dungeons are also very flexible in terms of the group itself. Without having the advantage of additional levels over the nominal range of a given dungeon, without being obscenely overgeared for them, there is still the option of doing the vast majority of dungeons (at least partially) with only 2-4 people. An option which wasn't there for the BC era heroics, for instance. The requirements of group composition itself are rather lenient too. While definitely helpful, having great CC potential is hardly mandatory. Suboptimal compositions (hybrid dps; druid as healers; running 2+2+1 or 2+3 instead of the canonical trinity of 1+1+3) are okay for the overwhelming majority of dungeon content. There are extremely few examples of encounters which require the presence of certain classes (e.g hunters/priests/locks for Valthalak), or ban the presence of other classes. Classic dungeons are very much free-form, in more than one way, and it's hard to keep a straight face while denying their appeal.

      And yes, you really should have a dedicated blog post about them at some point, silly pally. :P

    2. How many times did you re-write this? I got so many comment notifications I thought I'd gotten reddited or something. :P

      I have written a couple of posts about dungeons... but instances really don't mesh as well with the casual playstyle I've adopted for this. Doesn't mean I can't appreciate them for what they are; I just can't talk as much about content that I don't get around to doing very often.

      Also, as someone who's always had a penchant for getting lost in non-linear dungeons (especially back in the days before dungeon maps), I'm not as much of a fan of those. :P

  4. One of my favorite things about 20 hour AV matches was the "tide" action that would happen. At certain common times you could make (or lose) a lot of progress based on your time zone.

    I was in a PST guild, so we'd deliberately try to get into the match at around 3pm our time. Take an hour to get setup, and then really push right at 4pm PST...cause that was 6pm EST and you could count on the EST people having to log for dinner. We knew we could count on at least a 15 minute window where the other team would be dealing with the turnover and we could get some objectives done and/or even get to the general.

    Of course our top raid guild had a raid at 7PST, which meant the other team knew they'd get some licks in while we were in turmoil.

    1. It sounds cool, I just don't see how that kind of thing would happen unless a large portion of the raid group is weak and clueless about what to do, or the complete opposite - both sides being extremely strong and organised. In all the matches I've joined, people tended to take bunkers and towers reasonably quickly - it was only around the final bosses that things tended to stall for a bit.

    2. It was a bit of both actually. People seem to forget that the modern era of "we know everything about everything" wasn't always true. Everything was kind of up in the air back then (what stats to focus on etc), including the "best way" to win AV.

      But also, AV had some of the best (arguably the best) weapons available to non-raiders. The Unstoppable Force was on par with the legendary Arcanite Reaper (and didn't cost the massive amount of gold that the reaper cost) for Warriors/Paladins/Shamans etc. As well as the blue axe I used on my fury warrior. So people were pretty motivated to win. Also the Ice-Spear for a win would carry you to 60+ easily.

      Also, it was single server at the time, and we were a PvP server. So AV was "srs bsness" for us all (at least on horde side) since we hated to lose to those blue devils. The 24+ hour matches were pretty strictly weekend affairs though. During the week it was rare for the game to take more than 2-6 hours.

  5. Also, since I appear to have lost my other comment, it's important to remember that the NPCs were all pretty serious. Especially once they'd been leveled up a bit with armour scraps.

    Especially because so much of the population was still leveling (and AV was amazing xp and gear upgrades from quests/rep levels). So it wasn't a case of "40 on 40 max level characters".

    But yeah, the NPCs weren't easily soloable (or duoable really). When I was on my rogue I would often be assigned to "guard duty" where I'd sit in stealth near critical graveyards. Sometimes I wouldn't even fight the people, I'd just sap them and let the guards clean them up.

    And that's for the graveyards. The towers had the "Lieutenants" which were even tougher.

    1. I was quite surprised by just how tough the NPCs were! But alas, complete ignorance is something you can't bring back. I did have a match that lasted nearly 3 hours the past weekend, and people on both sides were quickly losing the will to live, lol.