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World of Warcraft Review (2004-2012) Part 1
I’ve always liked MMO reviews. No matter when you decide to actually sit down and do them, it is a very difficult thing to write. The game is never really done unless it is one of the unfortunate ones to get shut down. Most MMO reviews are done after a month of playtime. That is a pretty good time to get a nice measurement to score something. A lot of people are waiting out that first month to see how things go. Others just wait for reviews. So when I thought about writing a World of Warcraft review, I was hesitant at first. Is it too late for reviews for this game? Or is it a perfect time to reflect on World of Warcraft right before major changes are introduced with Mists of Pandaria?
I’ve been playing World of Warcraft since early February 2005. That is just about 3 and a half months after release and it makes my head spin that this MMO came out almost eight years ago. I’ve been around in Azeroth for the majority of that time and the game has certainly evolved. With the fourth expansion just over a month away, I had some time to sit down and think about the game itself. I pulled out my collector’s editions and I went through them all and the first box was quite nostalgic. I remembered the original World of Warcraft, so often called Vanilla WoW, and the great times I had. To be quite honest, no other game has given me the sense of satisfaction and the amount of unforgettable moments than World of Wacraft. The MMO changed gaming forever, especially the genre itself. Blizzard’s machine is still running and while subscriptions are beginning to drop, the game is populated by over 10 million gamers around the world.
So here we are, nearly eight years later and three complete expansions in. How has World of Warcraft been over the years? We all know it as the “king of MMO’s” or whatever title you want to give but in the end it is a game and games need to be reviewed. To do this, with a game of this size, we’re going to start out by talking about the game mechanics and just what WoW is. Then we’ll venture into the expansions and the history of the game. Sit tight, grab some popcorn, and let’s get crackin’.
Part 1 | Part 2
WarCraft has been around since 1994. A lot of people don’t really grasp that. There is a huge difference between WarCraft and World of Warcraft. Although based in the same world with the same characters, diehards of the series prefer to keep them separate. WarCraft, before 2004, was always an RTS series. Spawning three game which included the very successful WarCraft 3: Reign of Chaos and its expansion The Frozen Throne, WarCraft has been a staple for Blizzard for a long time. It was natural that the company would take it to new horizons. No one could ever have guessed that the new direction would be an MMO and that it would be this gigantic eight years later.
Since 1994, Blizzard and creative developer Chris Metzen have shaped the world of Azeroth, its races, history, and creation. There are so many events, characters, and worlds in the WarCraft universe and the amount of books, RPG sets, and other adaptions prove the scope of this franchise more than anything. WarCraft is a well-oiled machine and it was that before World of Warcraft even released. The RTS crowd, RPG fanbase, and readers bit into WarCraft hard. This has all since exploded due to WoW’s success but that doesn’t mean that the adaptations and novels have focused on the online game. Most of the non-MMO merchanise for WarCraft remains general to the franchise itself. There have been some merchandise baring the name “World of Warcraft” instead of just WarCraft but Blizzard has done a great job in retaining the name of their franchise rather than focus on one game in that series.
Truthfully, I have spent hours upon hours reading the history and lore of WarCraft in books, RPG companions, and the wonderful WoWWiki. It is important that the fans keep the WarCraft name alive lest it would have been buried a long time ago due to the influx of brand new series players that have only invested time into World of Warcraft. A great example would be a large number of players who complained about the inclusion of the Pandarians in the upcoming expansion. References to Jack Black and Kung-Fu Panda became a reoccurring joke while long-time fans of the series or those just did some research defended Blizzard with many, many mentions of the fan favorite Chen Stormstout. It is things like this that actually do harm to the WarCraft franchise no matter how many players World of Warcraft has.
Overall, the inclusion of World of Warcraft into this series was a great thing. Not so much because of the popularity of the MMO, but very much thanks to the continuing story fans received in increasing epic-ness and playability.
Honestly, for those who are long-time fans, did you ever think that you would be seeing the deaths of so many characters at the hands of your own created Azeroth denizen? Did that thought ever come into your mind before 2004? I, for one, never thought I would see favorites like Arthas, Illidan, and Deathwing take the final plunge. It certainly has been a ride since November of 2004. Since that day WarCraft became more than just a video game series. It became a worldwide phenomenon and a staple of history. Not just video game history, but world history.
It all started on November 23rd, 2004. Amidst server outages and a very laggy experience, Azeroth opened its doors to a flood with World of Warcraft’s release. I love the blank stares I get from many WoW players who try new MMO’s now. I tell them not to be so critical about new games like The Secret World or TERA. I reflect on my experiences back when I signed up and started playing World of Warcraft on February 2nd, 2005. I tell them how many current features were not there and how every day we got to play was almost like a miracle. I’m looking at my account history right now and there are so many free days added to my play time due to server outages that would last 12 hours up to a couple days. Today people freak out about weekly maintenance. Back in 2004 and 2005, we freaked out about not being able to play for days and this was common!
WoW had a very troublesome launch year. Although, the content never stopped rolling out. Sure, we had a lot of issues back then with server stability and class balance (way more so than now) but content patches regularly came out. I remember when Onyxia and Molten Core were added to the game. I was still leveling my first character. Yes, I stuck with my first ever created character. I remember debating for quite a while when I was waiting for the game to come in the mail about what I would play. I settled on a male Night Elf Warrior. He was the first “toon” I ever made and he’s still around. He isn’t my most advanced character or the one I raided with most of the time but I take pride in the fact that I never abandoned my first character or deleted it back then. He’s stagnant right now but with the brand new Warrior changes in Mists of Pandaria, I’m thinking I’ll be maining him once again.
That’s now, though. We’re still back in 2004 and 2005. It didn’t take long for World of Warcraft to become a success and a nationwide hit. For many, it was their first MMO. WoW wasn’t the first ever MMO but it opened the doors for so many new players to the genre. WarCraft itself was huge. Creating a very high-budget, open world online game for that series was sure to attract many, if not most, of the franchise’s player base.
The gameplay itself was pretty tight. Taking examples from previous MMO’s and even some from the RTS numbered games in the series, combat and socializing was easy enough. You highlight your target, get in range, use abilities, and click on skills until the thing died or you did. Every creature had a set level and stats and it was easy enough to know if you could tackle a challenge or not. Balancing was a bit issue when it came to PvP and just making sure every class could be used with the same amount of need in parties. There was plenty of content to level yourself with (aside from the desolate late 40’s and very early 50’s) but the dungeons residing around the world felt very distant to everything else. Only the high level dungeons got any looks while places like Maraudon, Zul’Farrak, and Blackrock Depths barely ever got used and that meant the dungeon XP and items inside of them were of no use to leveling players.
Vanilla WoW will forever be the best version of the game to me. I was so into the game back then and it was when most of my effort was given to it. I was in high school back then and while I played a lot, I was still able to have a life. I say that because WoW consumed many players. It took ahold of so many lives and to be honest, it was easy to see why. The sense of advancement, accomplishment, and changing a world made it hard to leave the world.
I had many, many epic moments back in Vanilla WoW. I didn’t have any friends who played at this time so it was just me and whoever I met in-game. One of the things that really grabbed me was the exploration aspect of the game. You could go wherever you wanted barring some unfinished zones, which I still found ways in. When I hit level 23, I uncovered every piece of the in-game map outside of dungeons and raids. I go so infatuated with the world that I stopped leveling, took off my armor so I didn’t get hit with durability costs, and went exploring. I was level 23 moving up the roads and over the hills and mountains. I died a lot. A lot. Yet when I saw my map complete, I was so happy that I took the time to do that.
Another cool thing that happened to me was when I was level 44 running through Azshara, which was my favorite zone back before the Cataclysm. It held the most lore in a zone and after reading the War of the Ancients trilogy, I spent a ton of time there. However, one day I was running through and someone was asking for more group members to fight Azuregos, the blue dragon that roams the south sections of the zone. I whispered the guy and asked him what level you needed to be. He told me it was a level 60 encounter, highest level at the time. I whispered back telling him thanks for the information but that I was only level 44. He invited me anyways and said, just have fun. The fight was a 40-man encounter and it was the first time I got to experience that. I was glued to the computer screen as we fought and died plenty of times. In the end, we killed Azuregos and watching that dragon tilt back and forth and finally drop was something I couldn’t get over. It was the most intense moment I had in gaming at the time. There I was, a level 44 Warrior in a level 60, 40-man fight. I felt like I did nothing but die. Yet it didn’t change my experience. The raid leader who invited me had told everyone about me and that it was my first “raid” fight. Everyone was very welcoming and congratulated me on finishing my first “real fight” in the game.
Apparently the raid leader was talking to his higher ups in the guild and not only did they invite me into the guild, but they gave me half the loot that Azuregos had on him except the gold (which was shared out), the Sinew for a hunter quest, and an epic dagger called the Fang of the Mystics. I was given a Blue Sack of Gems, and an Orb of Deception. It was an epic day and it really ensured that I would be playing for quite some time after that.
I could go on about my experiences in Vanilla WoW that made the top of my list in terms of accomplishments in gaming like finally hitting level 60, killing Onyxia for the first time, finally getting enough Fire Resistance to tank Ragnaros, helping my guild master open the Gates of Ahn’Qira, and so forth. Vanilla WoW required so much teamwork and skill. Every class had something to bring to the table whether it was just pure damage, healing, tanking, traps, or crowd control. Everyone was needed and everyone hated hunters. The 40-man system back then was easy to deal with thanks to the crazy influx of players and there was no shortage of those who wanted to raid, at least on my server.
I was with that guild who I fought Azuregos with for a long time. Basically from level 44 up until about 6 months away from the Burning Crusade’s release. It was a sad day when the guild broke up. Many guilds back then disbanded. The changes to the raid system in the first expansion caused a lot of players to fight amongst each other when guilds had to create teams to accommodate the new 10 and 25-man raid limit. I had switched from off and main tank in that guild over the years. I always had the full sets of tier gear and I was the first warrior on my server to collect all 9 pieces of tier 3 from Naxxramas. Vanilla WoW was an exciting yet buggy time. The game had way more than its fair share of issues but nothing was able to topple the amount of fun everyone had with the content. PvP was a mess, PvE was flourishing, the servers struggled, but overall it was wrong for any of us to find a better game to play that gave that kind of accomplishment and fun.
Although my guild broke up, a couple of us that had grown close over the years stuck together and created a small guild to run at least 1 25-man team and 2 10-man groups for raiding in the new content. It was an exciting time for WoW players. The Burning Crusade would bring a ton of new content to a stale experience in the form of a new continent, two new races, and 10 more levels. It’s tough for me to explain the feeling of first stepping through the Dark Portal to Outland. It had been so long since we had new content and everyone was just gushing with excitement for something new.
Stepping through the portal was amazing. What was only just a tad big in Azeroth, the Dark Portal on the other side was gigantic and foreboding. The front line was being guarded by both the Alliance and Horde against the Burning Legion forces. Demons were everywhere and just out front of the portal were level 70 beasts of huge sizes trying to seize the portal. It was then that you introduced yourself and took a gryphon/wyvern to your faction’s stronghold. Honor Hold was where I ended up and the new journey begun.
Burning Crusade brought a lot of changes to World of Warcraft. I mentioned above the raid system limit going from 40 players to either 10 or 25 depending on difficulty. That in itself was a huge change but things didn’t stop there. The gameplay was a bit different in the way that it felt easier. A lot of it was thanks to the huge stat increased gained by the new gear but some of it was due to tweaks to abilities and what was actually needed to kill enemies now. Little did any of us know that this was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Blizzard would go about “nerfing” their own game to becoming easier and easier.
Outland was a very cool place to level, the first time. In fact, all 70 levels in World of Warcraft back then were just fine on the first time through. The journey was very long and the sense of accomplishment was ever present but that didn’t help the trying experience of leveling alts. To many of my online buddies, including myself, leveling an alt another 70 levels seemed just crazy. I did, however, level a friend’s hunter from 60 to 65 while he was on vacation. He wanted to catch up to us who had already reached level 70. It was then that I realized that replaying the leveling content in World of Warcraft was tedious at best. The stale feeling came rushing back almost like Burning Crusade never released and we were still running AQ40 and Naxx every week.
The game was tedious and even with Burning Crusade’s release, things felt new for a while but Blizzard took way too long in releasing raid content. Not to mention Burning Crusade originally required raiders to get attuned to the various raids for both the 10-man and 25-man versions. It was frustrating and that is perhaps the best way to explain the MMO’s first expansion. The starting areas for the Draenei and the Blood Elves, the game’s new races, were fun but then you emptied out into Azeroth and back into content that was already done before. For a game that game with so much to do, sometimes the aspect of running through things again just seems way too daunting. This was something not remedied until years later with Cataclysm. It was a problem that even the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, had.
Overall, the things I remember the most about the Burning Crusade are Hellfire Peninsula, Netherstorm, Shadowmoon Valley, and The Black Temple raid. Everything that dealt with Illidan himself, Akama, and The Warden was so fun to read after everything that occured with the War of the Ancients and WarCraft 3’s events. However, I didn’t have any defining moments during the Burning Crusade. Which says a lot for me. I had so many of them back in Vanilla WoW that to have none in the first expansion was quite a let down. Long-time fans were happy with the story. Vanilla players were iffy with the changes. All-in-all, the Burning Crusade added a lot of content to a then 3-year old game going stale and for that it was worth it. I do consider this to be the worst expansion for World of Warcraft, though. My reasoning for that will be revealed in Part 2 after we talked about the other two expansions.
After The Crusade, The North Called And The World Trembled
To Be Continued In Part 2
We already talked about so much in part 1. We went over the WarCraft franchise and its history. Then we entered Azeroth for the first time and talked about some experiences. After years of that, we stepped through the Dark Portal and stood against Illidan Stormrage. Next we will talk about our journey to Northrend in the war against the Lich King and how the mighty Deathwing tore the world apart in his awakened rage. Finally, we’ll look at the future as the Mists of Pandaria clear and what possibly could happen from now until the inevitable day when Blizzard “completes” the World of Warcraft.
Stay tuned for Part 2 coming later this week! Thank you for reading.
Part 1 | Part 2