World of Warcraft Classic is teeming with life. Traders shout out their wares, offering much-needed magical items and equipment at reasonable prices. Adventurers form parties for protection against dangerous low-level foes. Earlier today a stranger came up to my mage and asked if I could conjure him water. I can’t remember the last time a random player asked me for anything in World of Warcraft. It’s nice to feel needed again.
Blizzard’s spent the past decade and change stripping away the need for players to directly interact with each other in the non-classic version of World of Warcraft. The difficulty of the game’s core questing content has been significantly reduced from where it was at launch, making it easy for players of all skill levels to chew through content quickly by their lonesome. Features like the dungeon finder, which automatically forms parties of random players for multiplayer content, made dungeon crawling much more efficient but impersonal at the same time. Unless I decided to start raiding or engaging in hardcore player-versus-player content, there’s just no reason for me to rely on other people in modern World of Warcraft.
Oh god do I need other people in World of Warcraft Classic. Old-school Azeroth is not friendly to solo players at all. I’ve died a dozen or more times in Westfall, the level 10-20 zone outside of Stormwind, trying to play a 2004 online role-playing game as a player accustomed to life in 2019. There are enemies everywhere, wandering the landscape and packed into crowded camps. They hit hard and are hard to kill. Taking on an even-leveled creature eats most of my mage’s mana, forcing me to rest between every kill. Taking on two even-leveled creatures is risky. I’ve had to use my mage’s Sheep spell, temporarily turning an enemy into a harmless critter, for the first time in years. Taking on three or more even-leveled creatures is suicide.
I’d died four times at the murloc camp off the coast of Westfall, trying to take on too many of the fishman monsters at once, before a random player invited me to join their group. We gleefully stomped those aquatic bastards, rolling up and down the coastline casting spells and swinging swords. Players would join and leave our ramshackle party. Our roving band of murloc murderers was the first taste I had of real camaraderie in World of Warcraft in a long time.
It’s not just the danger that brings World of Warcraft Classic players together. The difficult quests, tougher creatures, and lack of fast travel options mean players are spending a lot more time in a single leveling zone. In modern WoW I can tear through the quests in the Elwynn Forest starting area in a couple of hours, riding gryphons back and forth to Stormwind City for supplies and driving my heirloom mount between quest objectives. There is no gryphon in Elwynn Forest in WoW Classic. There’s no such thing as an heirloom mount. There is a whole lot of walking and a whole lot of killing two dozen creatures to collect four or five quest items. I spent a day and a half in Elwynn Forest in WoW Classic, just questing and talking, getting to know other players through the area chat, because they were right there with me.
Many of those players are still with me in Westfall. I’ll join a party to take down some Defias bandits, and there’s the one guy who keeps making inappropriate comments in chat, trying to rile the role-players on our role-playing server. Oh, and the priest is the nice woman who offered to sell me a wand for 20 silver only to realize she didn’t have all the materials she needed to craft it. It’s just not possible to speed through even the lowest level content, so we’re all stuck with each other. I love it.
The start-up economy doesn’t hurt community relations either. There are no veteran crafters churning out items and dumping them in the auction house. Instead of going to the market for crafted goods, players are asking crafters to meet up and make them things in trade chat. One item in huge demand is loot-carrying bags, crafted by tailors. My mage is a tailor and I’ve made many a bag for wandering adventurers over the past couple of days. Those players will remember me. I will remember them. It’s how MMO friendships start.
During WoW Classic’s early demo days I called the game “the hell we asked for.” Compared to modern World of Warcraft, with all of its conveniences and shortcuts, yeah, it is hellish. But it’s also filled with like-minded players willing to band together to see it through. It reminds me of the neighborhoods I lived in growing up in the pre-internet age when I knew my neighbors’ names and everyone was willing to help each other out. It’s an amazing feeling.
The WoW Classic servers are crowded right now, but that crowding will die down as struggling players filter back to the main game. Eventually all that will be left are the people who embrace the game’s community spirit, banding together to make old-school Azeroth a friendly, more survivable sort of place. I’ll be there.