Over the 15 years since the launch of World of Warcraft, Blizzard has slowly sanded off some of Azeroth's rough edges. The world is still bustling with dangerous dungeons and harrowing raids, but these days it's a kinder, friendlier world. World of Warcraft Classic aims to fix that, to make Azeroth dangerous again--although it retains a few of the modern niceties.
Blizzard has announced a release date for World of Warcraft Classic, along with a closed beta and a series of stress tests leading up to its August launch. Recent hands-on time with WoW Classic showed a recognizably sparse version of the game, with even basic quest-tracking a little less clearly signposted. This is a WoW meant for fans who have been with the game since the beginning, and who want to recapture that feeling.
Production director Brian Dawnson and WoW Classic lead engineer Brian Birmingham explained the motivations behind this ambitious retrofitting of the popular MMORPG, and what they hope it brings to the fans.
"The community said, we want Classic WoW. And when we looked at it, it looked like a world with crashes, with teleport hacks. It didn't meet the quality bar that Blizzard has today," Dawson told GameSpot. "Well, what if we used our modern infrastructure? Can we retrofit that? So we embarked on a few weeks journey to explore what that world was."
The decision to recreate the classic feeling within the new infrastructure led to some decision points. For some players, the rough edges are part of the original authenticity. Blizzard was left to make determinations on what belonged and what didn't, and the question came down to tough judgment calls.
"Anything that would affect gameplay we want to make sure that we deliver something that is authentic." Birmingham said. "Where we feel like quality-of-life improvements are okay are things like, tabbing to complete a name in in-game mail. That's not a core part of the gameplay experience of leveling, and questing, and trying to explore the world.
"Challenge is part of it," Birmingham continued. "The world feels dangerous. There are difficult group quests out in the world, elite quests that you can't do by yourself, or you would have to over-level if you wanted to do them by yourself. Where they really push you to find somebody else to help you out, or out level them and come back later, or you can just leave them and go on. You don't have to complete every quest in every zone. You can choose your path through the world. So I think that is exactly the classic gameplay that people are looking for."
A different brand of challenge is presented by the PVP, which has undergone multiple phases and metas throughout the game's long lifespan. As in any competitive live game, some classes will be a fan favorite criticized as overpowered in one era only to be left behind in the next. The team says this is one of the main reasons it chose this specific iteration of WoW.
"The 1.12 system is what we're starting with, that's the one target that we aimed at," Birmingham said. "We said, '1.12 was where the game was the most patched, the most complete, and the most balanced.' That's what we wanted to set the systems at for WoW Classic."
That isn't to say that the game will be completely static, however. While the plan is to retain the game as it was in the 1.12 update in perpetuity, players will still find some content unlocking over time, recreating the feeling of being an active player as the game was first rolling out with updates.
"People are asking to be able to go back and play WoW Classic as it was," Birmingham said. "We wanted to create this, almost like a snapshot in time, but we do want have these progressive content unlocks. So things like, Blackwind Lair, and Ahn'Qiraj, and Naxxramas. We want those to unlock over time, as the community is ready for them, as they progress through those various pieces of content. At the same time the systems overall we want to lock in at 1.12, where we feel like they were the most complete and balanced."
The notion of ongoing updates as they originally appeared, though, raises the question of expansions. Blizzard has released seven expansions in all. And while later ones like Legion or Battle for Azeroth would feel out-of-place within the Classic framework, it stands to reason that some players may want to experience earlier expansions--such as The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King--in the context of World of Warcraft Classic. Blizzard isn't committing to this, but also hasn't ruled it out.
"The community's demand for WoW Classic is why we did WoW Classic," said Birmingham. "So we are certainly open to hearing what people think about it. At the same time what we are focused on right now is WoW Classic. That's what we are committed to delivering. We don't have any plans to announce anything past that."
World of Warcraft Classic launches on August 27.
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