Months ago, I wrote an elegy for the lost traditions of World of Warcraft Classic for Kotaku. After a long hype cycle touting it as a perfect recreation of the game’s provincial culture in the mid-2000s—those halcyon days before it was thoroughly brutalized by Blizzard’s egalitarian approach to server identity, difficulty scaling, and mobile game-like progression—I was disappointed to see that the dreaded Hustle Mindset had too taken root in my alleged safe space. The leveling zones were bereft of fellow players, and finding a group for most dungeons was nearly impossible. In their place was a legion of profiteering Mages all at level 60, offering to power-level groups of hapless lowbies through instances for a small fee.
This felt like such a desecration to me. I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for most of my life (now that’s horrifying to think about), and I didn’t remember these uber-capitalist services taking root in Vanilla’s original expanse. The idea that you could pay a dude to do the hard work for you felt like both an insidious scam and a complete misinterpretation of World of Warcraft’s original intention. I came to Classic to be an old-school elitist, and I was indulging in those instincts with gusto.
That is, of course, until I purchased one of those boost runs myself. Now I’ve been fully radicalized. The institutions are dead. Embrace the chaos.
My brother and I were up late, trying to score a group for Maraudon, a beloved dungeon added to World of Warcraft in its first-ever major patch. We drafted a healer and an additional DPS caster, but couldn’t scrounge up a single tank despite hours and hours of LFG spamming. I wrote about that dichotomy in my previous piece; the 1-60 experience in Classic has been decimated over the past year. Everyone is thoroughly focused on the late game and nothing else.
However, we did see a gnome in trade chat promoting Maraudon boosts for the approachable fee of 16 gold. I really wanted to do the dungeon again in any capacity possible, so screw it, I said. Let’s give it a shot. We messaged the guy, and within minutes, he opened a portal and summoned us to the mouth of the instance. I had no idea what to expect, but considering how thoroughly the boost economy had gripped my beloved World of Warcraft, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
So I was there with my brother and two other players, each of whom also bought their way into an express, passive-XP funnel. The gnome told us to pay him after he was finished, and swiftly disappeared around the corner and into the fray. Maraudon is a big dungeon—the halls contain 11 bosses, with multiple entrances and a sizable bounty of quests—and I was completely new to this routine. Were we supposed to follow him? A few minutes ticked by and still, no sight of our trusted guardian. I tapped my foot and threw out a /dance. Maybe we were all being scammed.
And then…the universe tore in half.
I took some screenshots to show you the carnage, but nothing comes close to witnessing the bedlam of a boost run up close. Suddenly the gnome reappeared in the cavern followed by every other minion in the entire dungeon. Well, not every minion; he didn’t aggro the bosses and I’m sure he passed over some of the trash, but the train of baddies on his tail was still a bewildering sight to behold. They chased in lockstep, stacked on top of one of one another due to World of Warcraft’s lack of collision detection. One million arms, legs, and heads in fluid motion, like Ravana from the Ramayana. The gnome nimbly bounced up a stone ramp, ensnaring the mobs in a confused animation loop, and began to AoE them all down. The gambit was sealed.
I can’t begin to tell you what happened with my XP bar. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any RPG, ever. You’re used to small steps in World of Warcraft. Killing a bandit outside of Gadgetzan might inch up your progress a few pixels. Turning in a quest might net you a quarter of a bar. But in Maraudon on that fateful night, I gained half a level in a matter of seconds. The game client hitched and sweated as it attempted to comprehend the sheer magnitude of progression I was earning in an instant. If this was Vegas, a pit boss would’ve been called over to throw me in a dumpster. Within the endless, hardscrabble grind of Classic WoW, this felt like a wondrous, immaculate exploit.
And then it was over. The corpses strewn out in front of us, vendor trash shimmering off their death animations. We zoned out of the instance, I paid the man for his hard work, and then asked for one more run. Back into the gauntlet we went; and the gnome showed us once again how anyone could hit 60 in an instant as long as they had the coin.
There are videos on YouTube detailing how any mage in World of Warcraft can master the Maraudon hustle. Obviously nobody, not even someone at the level cap decked out in high-tier raiding sets, should be able to survive a mugging from the denizens of an entire dungeon. So this kind of game-breaking business asks for a specialized suite of ingredients. (If you’re curious, that includes nature damage resistance gear, iron grenades, and a grip of health and mana potions.)
These runners have every nuance down to an art; they’ll jump over a railing to scratch out just enough time to regenerate their mana, or they’ll intentionally use low-powered spells to pull mobs and conserve their resources as much as possible. The whole thing is a hilarious perversion of World of Warcraft Classic’s intended premise. People came to this game because they missed running dungeons like Maraudon with the sense of wonder and abandon they had as first-timers. Instead, we’ve inherited a generation committed to breaking down all of these circa-2004 gauntlets on a molecular level—utilizing nuclear-grade cheese tactics—as an easy way to profit off those who don’t want to make the journey to 60 the old-fashioned way.
And you know what? I’m good with this fate. I know I expressed a melancholy about the state of WoW Classic earlier in the year, and I do still kinda wish that admission to its servers were bundled with a free lobotomy, so that we could truly stomp through the Azerothian wilds as if they were new all over again. But frankly, I’ve come to appreciate how impossible that dream was. World of Warcraft Classic wasn’t ever going to possess the same culture as retail WoW, nor was it going to perfectly replicate the intrepid vibes of the game on its release date.
Instead, Classic scratched out an arc of its own; this atemporal blend of warm, role-playing nostalgia and hyper-mechanization; a bizarre mish-mash of priorities and objectives; an MMO at the end of time itself. I can spend an evening solo-questing in The Hinterlands, high on the wash of old joy, before dropping a bundle of coin on the black market to sit through the last of a leveling plateau that I don’t feel like accomplishing myself. World of Warcraft Classic contains multitudes, just like the game always has.