This is probably what everyone has waited for, right? The most iconic MMORPG expansion ever was finally remade. Here are our opinions!
Warcraft 3 Part 3?
So in preparation for the Wrath of the Lich King Classic release, I went back and played some of Warcraft 3 to jog my memory of what events made the Lich King so.. wrathful. While most of the early World of Warcraft is a continuation of Warcraft 3, being the world… of Warcraft after all as a casual enjoyment of the story it was pretty neat to connect the dots here and there. The expansion itself makes just reference to these important events, but World of Warcraft’s story is told in such a weird way that you always have to chase it down.
So let’s recap a little here, the Lich King used to be or in part was Arthas Menethil (I assume Menethil harbor is named after his line), the prince of Lordaeron whose actions would shake the world of warcraft quite a bit. In his attempt to stop a bunch of necromancers and demons from turning his kingdom into a reenactment of the Walking Dead, our prince grew so obsessed with his task that suddenly turning all his subjects into the undead seemed like the only way to save them from the undead.
I know, Warcraft 3’s story is a bit more layered than that, but I’m sure most people know it by heart. Arthas story is a huge deal and the backbone of the story of World of Warcraft. It is one of the reasons why Wrath of the Lich King was such a beloved expansion, as it promises to finally wrap up the third act teased at the end of Warcraft 3. After Arthas had ascended to become the titular Lich King, he kind of just took a nap during the events of World of Warcraft and the Burning Crusade. Outside of the few times you deal with the leftover of Warcraft 3’s story and his war crimes in the northern kingdoms.
So the time of reckoning is upon us! After weeks of invasions and a shortlived, kinda fun event we’re now taking the fight to Arthas in the frozen wastes for Northrend. And while World of Warcraft Classic Wrath of the Lich King is not exactly like it shipped almost 13 years ago, it is still quite the premise for an expansion. See, World of Warcraft Classic banks on the fear of missing out. This will be the last time (for now) you’ll be able to experience WoW’s most important expansion (again). And this nostalgia is alluring for veterans, but also interesting to unassuming journalists like myself.
So after some delay, here’s a review of Wrath of the Lich King Classic in 2022.
One Death Knights Journey
As we have learned in a previous piece, my leveling adventures in World of Warcraft Classic have been quite insightful. So bad that I have developed an unhealthy fascination with it. After playing Final Fantasy XI earlier this year, I wanted to know more about how MMORPGs have developed over the past two decades. While I still have my bias and favorite, our esteemed editor and overlord David loves the World of Warcraft. And while all my plans of saving him and getting him to play Final Fantasy XIV have failed miserably, I now find myself raiding with his WoW Classic Guild regularly.
My time in Northrend has been insightful and I would almost put it down as one of those spiritual experiences. A pilgrimage to a different time, with the gift of hindsight and lots and lots of visits to Wowhead.com.
But let’s start at the beginning; I started the new class of the Death Knight a month before Wrath of the Lich King launched and geared it up as best I could. I thought to myself, who else is better to lay down the Lich King than one of his disgruntled minions? And while I always joked during the leveling process that I would betray my fellow Alliance members eventually because I wasn’t sure if I had picked the right side. One had dragons, the other had undead dragons and undead Vikings. My choice of being a Death Knight, however, did not seem to affect my journey at all.
Even when I met with my brethren of the Ebon Hold, they felt the need to explain to me what their faction was all about and what their beef with Arthas was. Only for me to stand there befuddled, clutching the membership card that would grant me free access to the Ebon Hold and its Runeforge whenever I wanted. I was there when all of that happened! And this little moment was just one of the many frustrations I felt about my involvement in the story.
Now I know, expecting well-told stories in an MMORPG is something you shouldn’t expect. But going from the very cinematic opening of the Death Knight to no one remembering you were there in that moment was kinda jarring. And I can only imagine how that would feel for long-time World of Warcraft players who have personally slain the greatest of foes only to end up as a side character in someone else’s story.
Enroute to 80
So I was making my way to level 80 since everyone told me that once I got there and geared up, that’s when the actual World of Warcraft begins. One of the options I had to get there as fast as possible was to run the same dungeon over and over again for minimal experience gain. But at least running those in a party of 5 would be quicker than trying to quest through all the zones. After my second or third run of Utgarde Keep, I gave up on it.
Here’s the thing about dungeons in World of Warcraft Classic, they are really dull. And if you are already geared, the first five of them won’t offer you any meaningful upgrades, so what is the point? From my perspective, they only change the ratio of running and fighting compared to questing. Personally, I’m not a big fan of doing my braindead rotation in a group that has internalized theirs as well. But this kind of grind can be pretty relaxing if you have a podcast to listen to or a movie you can watch on a second screen. Something I actually did a few times.
What Blizzard has changed, however, compared to the original Wrath of the Lich King, is the exemption of the Dungeon Finder. A tool within World of Warcraft that will find you a group to do dungeons with automatically. Instead, we have the Group Finder, which does the exact same thing, just with extra steps. While I don’t see the difference between the two, outside of being able to choose your fellow unfortunate players and having to summon them to the location of the dungeon. Some veterans still prefer to pick and chose their perfect group composition to get a dungeon run over a few minutes faster.
Generally, people have been friendly on my journey through the dungeons. There was the odd occasion in which youthful courage ended in a quick death, but generally, things went smooth. But there was that one time I was accused of ninja-looting a cape that would’ve been an upgrade for me, but the tank also really wanted it. Now confusing values of items aside (we’ll get to that), the odd social rules of conduct in World of Warcraft remain a mystery to me. Especially when results in people having a gamer moment over losing a roll on low-level items.
While I can’t top some of the stories of MMORPG veterans, maybe because most of the people who play Classic are a little bit older and simply live with the pain, occasionally getting invited into groups just when I’m about to kill a quest objective, only to be insulted after I pressed one more button left me baffled. There is something odd about MMORPG players doing everything they can to play less of the game they are paying for. And while I understand the allure of AFKing in Dalaran while meming in guild chat, it still never fails to leave an impression.
Addons Addons Addons and No one Tells you anything
Something I loathe about World of Warcraft is the high reliance on Addons to make the game even remotely playable (Editor Note: Here’s our Wrath Addon Guide). Yes, technically, you could play without them, but technically you can also sow your own clothing and source your own electricity by riding a bicycle. While I understand the argument that some players want to keep the purity of classic, those are also the same players that use Addons like Questie or some miraculous Addon I heard of that will direct you toward the most optimal route for EXP. So I wonder why Blizzard couldn’t at least implement some of their retail features.
Another thing I really don’t like about World of Warcraft is the lack of a guiding hand, sure, some of it comes down to the figure-it-out aspect. But when figuring it out turns into google searches just to find out how I’m supposed to play my Class or what stats I should go after, it starts bordering on the frustrating side. I understand that for veterans, all of this is an old song, but as a new player, this is just endlessly frustrating and creates a barrier to entry.
And eventually, someone will throw a sly comment at you about how your damage is bad or how your gear is entirely wrong, then you ask what is right, and you are told to ‘just google it’. I went into this before, but World of Warcraft and especially Classic, is a solved game. There are millions of resources explaining how to optimize everything, but I would’ve liked to learn about gear enchantments without having to look up a Best in Slot gear guide.
Questing with an End in Sight
Since I tried to focus on questing instead of grinding my soul away in all the dungeons, which to Blizzard’s credit still manage to impress visually, Most of my time in Northrend was spent in its various zones and I can proudly claim that I have cleaned out most of them. And while some of the vistas Wrath of the Lich King offers are still a sight to behold, I can’t say the same about the questing. As one of those people that actually read them, many quests really feel like.. quests in an MMORPG. You’re given a vague reason why X number of things has to go away and off you go.
And it really depends on what kind of quest chain you end on, one can play out throughout your entire stay in a zone some a neat little payoff at the end. Another will just leave you wanting for more, like that one time a character was believed dead from Warcraft 3 just suddenly shows up out of nowhere and the game just lets that happen. Sometimes this is just really frustrating, while sometimes, you get some actual payoff.
Something I noticed in all the zones, if how confident Blizzard is to have the Lich King himself show up every now and then and be super evil for just a moment. At first, this is really cool, but once you run into him for the 7th time. When he just shows up, does a thing, and then runs away, it cheapens his vibe.
Another thing that I found rather annoying is the quests that have these neat little roleplay events happening worldwide. Seeing these cutscenes play out in front of you is very cool in concept. In practice, however, I would end up with three other players on the same quest watching dialog clipping into each other, three versions of an NPC in some weird time distortion field. It is rather jarring.
Outside of those, I really enjoyed most of the quest chains in Northrend, though. Some of my favorites are probably the ones in Dragonblight around the Wyrmcrest Temple, the latter half of the Stormpeaks, and pretty much everything in Icecrown.
Something that baffled me, is how willing World of Warcraft is to hide away some of its best content. One of these quest chains leads to the iconic Wrath Gate cutscene, which by today’s standards just looks like a fun homage to Peter Jacksons Lord of the Rings movies, but everything around it was still satisfying. Ending with the battle in Lordaeron that came out of nowhere, I want to level a Horde character to determine if there were any hints to those events.
And as befitting of the final zone of the expansion, Icecrown did not disappoint either. There is some actual phased progression here and it starts feeling like your contributions to the war really matter, like setting up camps behind enemy lines, slowly pushing the enemy back, and establishing various footholds. During all of this, I met a curious little ghost boy whose quest chain ended up being the one that took me to 80. I was not expecting something like it and now I kinda wish the game had more quests like it. Maybe I haven’t found them yet so I guess there is some more adventuring to do.
Now that I have experienced the leveling of Wrath of the Lich King Classic Edition, I really don’t know how to feel about it. On one side, I think it is a fascinating time capsule into the MMORPG game design of old. But on the other hand, I wonder how so many people put up with some of the more jarring flaws. Leveling is not exactly something I found enjoyable, the little bits and stories that happen while leveling are what I would consider World of Warcraft’s best moments. But the game also feels needlessly clunky, even by 2007 standards.
So for what it is worth, the journey into Northrend isn’t exactly something I would recommend for a casual adventuring experience. World of Warcraft is a game that demands you do the homework before and during play, or you’ll be left in the dust. That being said, I don’t think there is any game like World of Warcraft that manages this balancing act of presenting an MMORPG world that feels alive and lived in on that scale. Sure after a week or so, there are some diminishing returns and most of the content is not demanding at all.
But I understand why World of Warcraft became the phenomenon it did. And I understand why Classic is now that warm comfort blanket of Nostalgia for MMORPG veterans that yearn for simpler times when you weren’t spoiled for choice and had clear, defined goals: Get to the level cap, get gear, and raid.
We’re gonna talk about raiding and the endgame soon, so stay tuned for that! For more World of Warcraft and esports, visit us here at ESTNN.