Let’s see what World of Warcraft Retail is from the perspective of a new player.
Going from Classic World of Warcraft to the current version of the game is an experience. In many ways, the game is the same, but at the same time, everything is different. I started playing World of Warcraft now that the Dragonflight pre-patch is out in preparation to review Dragonflight properly once it releases. My experience with World of Warcraft Classic Edition could be summed up as somewhat of an existential nightmare.
I really enjoyed parts of it, mainly the leveling and some of the stories of the zones. But other things I really loathed, like the endgame grind that doesn’t stop and the considerable lack of stuff to do outside of it. The odd choice to make most of your content optional will also lead to players missing out on crucial story information and the overall lack of any explanation of how the game even works.
Still, I was fascinated by it and after establishing a foothold in Northrend and the next major Final Fantasy XIV patch being off in the distance, why not give Dragonflight a shot? So here we are on my never-ending journey to learn about MMORPGs.
Just Figure it Out
Credit where credit is due if you start a new character in World of Warcraft today on one of the basic nonhero classes, you get shipped off to a neat tutorial island. You’ll get a tightly scripted experience with a Saturday morning cartoon vibe. I thought it was neat; it takes about an hour or so to finish and is the kind of safe space you want new players to go through. It is a bit of a shame, however, that basic group mechanics like healing and tanking aren’t explained at all.
When I finished the island and flew gloriously toward Stormwind the load screen told me that if I’d ever stuck or don’t know how something works I could just consult some of many community-driven websites and resources. And while opinions may differ on this, on one hand, I really respect that Blizzard just gave up trying to explain 17 years’ worth of content, half of it not even relevant to the game anymore.
It is hard for me to wrap my head around how the most popular MMORPG of all time has such a hostile stance toward anyone who genuinely wishes to engage with it. And I know other games aren’t good with it either, but other games aren’t as complex as World of Warcraft. It should not be that hard to have any kind of tutorial for basic concepts like crowd control or damage mitigation. Having tooltips for your skills can only do so much.
But I can at least appreciate the fact that World of Warcraft will then start to funnel you into some of its more recent content, namely the Battle for Azeroth expansion. From a narrative standpoint is very weird, you get dropped into this conflict that is actually over now but we’ll get to that. I have no idea how anyone who has never played World of Warcraft or any other MMORPG would not feel lost after that tutorial section. Classic WoW at least had you kinda naturally progress forward while introducing more and more stuff as you leveled up.
The Story of World of Warcraft, Retail Edition
If you want to experience the rich lore and legacy of World of Warcraft, I suggest you go watch some YouTube videos or buy one of the many books. Part of it is just the design and structure of the game. Being a persistent world with a new expansion every two years, you’ll run into the issue that players will be lost if they hop on the train just now. You also can’t really do things like lasting consequences or have a plotline run for longer than an expansion for similar reasons. Sometimes it feels like the game flips between stories from patch to patch.
The narrative of World of Warcraft is about the World of Warcraft, but getting a grasp on anything that has happened since the release of vanilla and now is almost impossible. You’d think if you start as a Nightelf in Teldrassil (which means you don’t do the tutorial island) they’d mention that the place was burned down. Instead, you happily quest your way through that zone, reach Darkshore and hear how it burned down. This is just one example of all the wacky inconsistencies you’ll be running into.
It is actually exactly like trying to play and learn the game, you’re just left to your own devices and the game itself doesn’t make any effort to get you to catch up. Now compared to Classic, the more recent expansions have somewhat of a storyline that guides you through most of its areas in a specific order but questing has not evolved a little since the vanilla days. More on that in a bit, though.
And I think that’s a real shame; World of Warcraft has these setpiece quests like the introduction quest chains in Warlords of Draenor or Battle for Azeroth. Those are both really nice stories but you get just thrown in there without any context to what was happening previously. Yes, I’m aware that lots of World of Warcraft players probably don’t care as much about the minute-to-minute narrative of the game, but it’s a roleplaying game and I’m not getting the feeling that I’m playing a role.
It Just Works
It is my belief that World of Warcraft’s biggest asset is its snappy combat and satisfying skills. Compared to Final Fantasy XIV it might come off as a bit simple but also more mechanical. It just feels really good to use abilities. My only complaint here is that most classes lack proper tutorials on what you should do and when. For example, in what context prioritizing multitarget damage over single target damage?
I played a Demon Hunter for most of my time till level 36 at this point and also checked out the Mage class. My gripe is that during leveling, you don’t really feel like your class is getting stronger outside of the numbers. Sure, you’re getting more abilities but your core rotation is kinda set by the time you hit level 10. While I don’t think this is a bad thing and I take it over Final Fantasy XIVs very progress, on the other hand, XIV actually slowly advances your arsenal and gives you enough time to learn your abilities properly.
World of Warcraft’s art style is so frighteningly consistent across the board that older content still looks fairly decent today. It’s something I absolutely adore about the title in both Classic and Retail, even if I’m not a fan of the Warhammer-Esque aesthetics. I wish I could say the same about the zones in greater detail but it continues to bother me. The places you see in World of Warcraft often have the vibe of dungeon maps from tabletops. An ancient ruin of a city of often just a few collapsed buildings.
I noticed it in Classic already but it really started to bother me now; the World of Warcraft in its scope and the open world just feels kinda small. The thing that changes in the newer expansions is just how tightly packed everything is. And like most of World of Warcraft’s design function dictates form. Places tend to exist only for the sake of the few quests that take part in them.
Doesn’t help either how caves, structures, and sometimes even certain sections of land seem copy-pasted at times. Probably not something that’ll rub everyone the wrong way but once you notice that caves tend to share the same layout, it is rather disheartening.
That being said, for all my complaints, especially the more recent areas in the various expansions look nice and have a neat structure to them. The best thing I could come up with is that World of Warcraft zones are designed like supermarket hallways. The main path guides you through a zone with a branch here and there to lead you astray. And zones tend to be dense, making the world feel small but full simultaneously. I know that isn’t the best way to describe it but it’s the best I can come up with.
Also, all of the dungeons I’ve played so far (mostly Legion and BfA ones) looked amazing. The same goes for the bosses, even if I’m starting to notice a trend of recycled models and themes from previous expansions. But hey, fighting a gigantic raptor will not be cool.
A Struggle with Legacy
Having played through Final Fantasy XI again fairly recently, a game that just celebrated its 20th anniversary. I find it fascinating how MMOs approach their aging process. Of course, it always depends on the kind of game you’re making but to my knowledge, World of Warcraft is the only game that invalidates its older content like this.
It is a shame that all these old expansions are now relegated to being EXP dumps until you reach the current expansion. Most of the introduction quests for an expansion and even full-on raids and story events aren’t available anymore. This creates this weird yearning, especially when you hang around veterans of the game that talk so fondly about certain events in specific kinds of content.
Yes, Blizzard brings them back for a special limited event from time to time. But it’s not like anyone can ever experience that content again the way it was meant to play.
For example, I started the Legion expansion and was given a weapon that I would upgrade throughout my time on the broken shores. Turns out that the system has barely any relevance anymore and so this cool piece of lore is just half there. I can compare this to Final Fantasy XIVs relict weapons, which fill that niche only because they exist in every expansion. And I can do this content for every single expansion just to experience the story or to transmog it.
Comparing World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV is weird because I know they are vastly different games. But coming into World of Warcraft, it feels like outside of some nostalgia pandering, Blizzard almost feels ashamed of their older content. Like the main cities are on the two main continents, right? How come I’m not even encouraged to engage with the Cataclysm content? Instead, the game wants me to level in one of the more recent expansions.
And I don’t know the right answer here; I just feel rather bummed out that the game’s legacy is kinda hidden from me. Like, I know who Thrall and Jaina are from Warcraft 3 but they seem like completely different people by the time I meet them again. And the only way I’m gonna find out what happened to them is by sifting through Wiki pages and Youtube videos. But I also understand now why there was this need for World of Warcraft Classic, back when the game didn’t seem so bloated and ashamed of its past.
So Why Am I still Playing?
So I played like three characters up to the mid-thirties at this point. Mostly because every time I work myself up to play World of Warcraft again, I want to try out a different flavor in hopes one will actually get me to stick around. And while this piece will sound mostly negative, I’m still oddly enchanted with the World of Warcraft. It has turned into this weird pilgrimage similar to when I played Final Fantasy XI again; I’m desperately trying to find something here.
And while revisiting Vana’diel was more of a nostalgia trip, my journey through Azeroth has turned into a more desperate search. What kept people playing this MMO for all these years? I mean, it’s different if you got on the ride and kept up with it, but I kinda doubt that World of Warcraft attracts any new players. Instead, it keeps cycling in players that just get that itch again.
At this point, I could probably call it quits and say that World of Warcraft isn’t for me. But that’s missing the point, isn’t it? I don’t plan to sit here and write how Final Fantasy XIV is the superior MMORPG because I have been emotionally blackmailed by Square Enix. What’s very clear to me is that in World of Warcraft, the gameplay is king and everything else is kept to a minimum to ensure that. I’m just upset that the parts about World of Warcraft seem to get the short end of the stick more than I’d like them to.
But we’re not done yet! I have yet to hit the level cap, and finish Shadowlands and we have a new expansion on the horizon. You’ll read all about it here on ESTNN