Classic vs Retail

Classic WoW happened and it seems to be quite popular, especially if Twitch viewership is anything to go by. It’s gaining people from private servers, players after a nostalgia trip back to ~15 years ago and newer players who’re wondering what all the fuss is about.

There was also an interest detail from WoWHead; Classic is proving to more popular than BfA according to this tweet by Perculia:

And whilst most of my play time is on retail still, I’ve poked classic a little bit – got a gnome warlock who is slowly being leveled. Right now she’s in Loch Mordan cursing the lack of drain life!

With the groupings of players I gave above – private servers, nostalgia and “what’s the fuss?” – there seems to be a fourth group of players. People who’ve not enjoyed where the retail game is now and who prefer the systems in classic. Certainly I know a few people from both guild & Bnet friends who are in this camp.

So what can we learn about retail from classic?

The following somewhat rambles; the tl;dr is:

  • Classic has a better feeling of progression than retail
  • Retail is using too much randomness layered on more randomness which doesn’t make for very good game play – in Mechagon there are points where you have to go through four layers of random for some items

Classic has more of a resource management game than retail – bags are a rare thing! My warlock has had the usual luck with bag drops and still only has the 16 slot backpack.

This means that inventory management is critical – you end up having to work out the cheapest thing in your bag to destroy to pick up loot.

And thanks to the lack of gold, making as much money as possible from drops is really important. Especially since how much gold you need for learning spells and the need for the 90g to get the mount at level 40.

… that’s one reason why I rolled a warlock. You effectively get a free mount at level 40 from a class quest!

My warlock is also a tailor / enchanter. Tailoring for the ability to make bags – fairly sure the 6 slot bags I’ll make at 45 tailoring will be the first I’ll get! Plus, as they don’t bind on use, they can be sold on the AH later once I get larger bags.

Compare that to retail where a low level char will often get bags drop from mobs and from quest rewards early on – reducing the need for the resource meta game.

And enchanting as the ability to d/e items is very useful later on. Especially since you can d/e tailoring items you make to skill up.

The only downside here is the need to buy recipes to skill up! As I mentioned above gold is a real issue; you get gold and then find you need to learn new skills. Like that next spell rank. Or weapon skills so you can equip drops – your char will initially only have limited weapon skills and any others need to be learned. Which all costs gold you don’t have! And without the weapon skills, you can’t equip items. Thus my warlock can’t use staves yet as she’s not learned that weapon skill.

Its also sensible to only buy the skills which you’ll actually use – its too expensive to be a completionist early on in classic. As a result my warlock hasn’t learned several ranks of Immolate as she doesn’t use that any more. Plus she’s only learned the base tailoring recipes – thanks to making bolts of linen cloth still giving her skill ups.

Retail has a lot more quality of life systems in place – questing is a good example here. Retail has a better quest log, the map shows you where you need to go for mobs and tooltips show you which mobs count or drop items.

When Nazjatar was first released, quests didn’t show the locations on the map. And often mobs didn’t show if they were needed or not in tooltips – although a config setting did change that. This caused quite a few complaints so that Blizzard did add back the display of quest objectives on the map.

There are other quality of life changes like a lot of items stacking to 200 instead of 10s or 20s as they would in classic. This is just another part of the resource management game which classic has.

Any place retail is better is in quest design – its just better in retail compared to classic. You don’t end up thinking “Something is up with these creatures, they don’t have any hoofs!” so much in retail!

The nature of leveling in classic is you always end up grinding mobs at points in the leveling – especially as you get closer to 60.

In retail it almost goes too far the other way – you’ll often out level an area before finishing off the quests within it and that’s even without heirlooms which make this even worse! You can kind of see why Blizz would like to add level scaling to the entire world – you could stay in one area for as long as you had quests to do there.

Something Warcraft has always had is the “The real game starts at the level cap” attitude, which over the years has only gotten worse.

You can see this in the way Blizz have added level boosts with the last few expansions – some of their marketing has been “You can quickly play with your friends“. That leveling is just a delay to the real game at the cap.

In retail, at the level cap, you end up chasing AP – its effectively a grind you need to do if you want to make best use of your gear. A related grind is the azerite gear, where there is a large amount of RNG involved, especially if you’re getting Titan Residium from M+.

Another bit of RNG is the way titanforging and sockets means you end up endless chasing gear. And the lack of a socket can mean gear which should be awesome…. isn’t.

It’s a bad feeling to get a 455 titanforged item which you find to be a downgrade when compared to a 440 item thanks to the socket & stats the 440 has.

And the Benthic gear makes this even worse – 425 items shouldn’t outperform items which are 30 ilvls higher!

Grinding the Benthic items – so they’d have not only the right procs, but also a socket – wasn’t what I’d call fun. I ended up getting all 6 of my 120s into Nazjatar to grind pearls to buy the Benthic armor tokens to send to my main who’d roll the dice to hope he got the right item with a socket. He was holding onto the pearls he was grinding to upgrade the gear to 425 once he’d gotten the right ones.

How was this in classic?

Well, gems didn’t exist. Nor did titanforging. And tier sets were still very much a thing.

You ended up with Best in Slot – BiS – lists. Once you had the items on the list? That was it. Your character was done for that raid tier.

However the low number of drops – bosses only dropped a few items of loot for a 40 player raid – meant it took a long time to get all the items on your BiS list.

But whilst it could take a long time, it felt possible to do.

With the current systems you can feel like your character will never be done. That the TF / socket system is just an endless gear grind with no end in sight.

And that lack of feeling of progression is a big part of the difference between retail and classic.

In classic you have a good feeling of progression on a regular basis – certainly whilst leveling. Every level from 10 upwards you get a talent point to spend. Which means you have a regular reward you can see your progress on.

And I think this is probably a key thing – a feeling that you’re not just trying to drink an ocean. That you can see actual progress.

The way the honor system works in BfA is a good example of this; the amount of honor required per honor level in BfA is punishing and it feels like there is almost no point in doing it as it’ll take too long.

I’m often capping conquest each week – the 500 conquest isn’t too painful to get and you get nice rewards for doing so. There is a feeling of progression. Plus, if you’re not doing catchup of conquest, you only have to get 500 conquest each week – although any conquest earned after that point is wasted. Would be nice if it was changed to honor instead, but such is life.

Legion’s honor system was better than the one in BfA – you earned either gold or AP each honor level and it was common to get an honor level each day so you felt like you were making progress all of the time so chasing prestige levels was an achievable thing.

But BfA’s honor system, where you need 8k honor per level and you don’t get anything for going up individual honor levels – just a tick mark as you crawl towards the honor level achievements like 250, 300, 450, etc – just feels like there is no point in even trying. Because its not fun to look out over an ocean of honor and think “I need to drink that“.

Another major issue with retail is randomness – or RNG.

Warcraft has always had RNG within it – bosses drop random items from a table, mobs you kill in the world could drop world epics, etc. I remember my priest in Vanilla was running Molten Core with Glowing Brightwood Staff, a level 49 world drop epic.

But retail seems to suffer from RNG on top of RNG.

A good example is if you’re chasing the meta achievement in Mechagon – this means you to learn all the available recipes.

Quite a few of them have a low drop chance from rare mobs.

Worse, some of those rares themselves have RNG related to their spawning. So if you’re after the Blueprint: Utility Mechanoclaw, you have to wait for the drill rigs to be the project of the day. Then for the right drill rig to spawn the Caustic Mechaslime – it shares a spawn with two other rares. Finally, you have to have the blueprint drop – its only ~30% drop chance on it.

The RNG layered on top of RNG doesn’t make for engaging game play – its a very Diabloesque system. Which shouldn’t be that surprising given the number of Diablo developers who’ve moved to WoW over recent years.

There was a fair amount of RNG in Legion – looking at Legendaries here – but BfA seems to have doubled down on that.

And its just not fun.

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