Was Cataclysm a Required Prerequisite for WoW Classic?

We got the date this week.  WoW Classic is coming on August 27th.

Classic is as Classic does

With that things felt… more real.  People started making plans.  I got an email from one of the old instance group, which we formed back in 2006 at just about the same patch level that WoW Classic is planned to launch with, indicating that we may yet again get the band back together.

I also started thinking about what class I might play.  Do I want to go back again as a pally with an offensive spell that is only good against demons or undead, along with auras and judgements and five minute buffs?

And do I go straight for consecrate on the holy tree?

You too can play with the talent calculator again.

I know Earl will go warrior and Skronk with a priest.  Maybe a druid this time, so I can do the run across the wetlands just like back in the day?

More on that as it develops.

And, of course, with the date announcement there was an unleashing of negative responses, often in the J. Allen Brack vein that nobody really wants WoW Classic, that it will flop, or that even if it starts strong people will soon realize it sucks and walk away.

I would have thought the ongoing success of EverQuest retro servers would have answered this question.  They form a part of the ongoing viability of the 20 year old game.  I suppose you do have to believe that Blizzard will learn from that, which is always a dubious proposition.  But even if Blizz thrashes about and moves at its usual glacial pace it should be able to make a success of selling nostalgia.  It certainly has a larger installed base to work with than EQ, and they are already suggesting that The Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King variations on these servers could be in the works if WoW Classic does well, though Mr. Brack does remain the doubter in chief on that.

All this also got me thinking again on the Cataclysm expansion.

A date that will live in infamy…

Oh Cataclysm.  If there were thirteen expansions, this one would cost 30 pieces of silver.

I have many negative thoughts about that expansion.  Even in hindsight, where I take in other factors, like having played WotLK straight through from launch until Cata launched may have worn me out on WoW or that I followed Cata development more closely than any other WoW expansion which left me few surprises, there are still a lot of sins there.

And not the least among those sins was the reworking of the old world.

I get that Blizz was trying to improve the flow through the game to the current expansion, facing the problem of levels both with that and by limiting the expansion to just five more.  It was a first, if not very effective, cut at the levels issue.

And I will admit that many of the redone zones are actually better.  They have coherent focus and quests that further the story rather than the sometimes random series of of unrelated tasks that seemed to make up much of the content.

But MMORPG players seem to be an oddly nostalgic lot.  In a game that you don’t pick up, play for a few weeks, or maybe months if it is a particularly excellent game, but play for years, the history matters.  This was part of my “no good expansions” theory of the world, that expansion bring change, even to areas that otherwise remain untouched, which in turn leads to people pining for how things used to be.

In EverQuest many of the original zones have sat untouched for years, looking little different than they did back at launch, and yet Project 1999 is a thing, trying to bring back an original, untainted version of the early game, while purists decry the Daybreak progression servers as they include post-launch changes to the game.  The purists are small in number however, and Daybreak’s nostalgia farming continues to do well.

So I wonder if Blizzard had dialed back their plans a decade back, decided not redo the world, perhaps opting just tune it up to allow flying, tacking on the starter zones for the two new races the same way they did with TBC, and then just focusing on the new zones and dungeons and raids, if we would even be talking about a launch date for something like WoW Classic today?

The strongest argument for WoW Classic is that you cannot simply go back to old zones and see places as they used to be.  There is no was to easily simulate the old days, the way things used to be back at launch, because Blizzard changed it all.  Some zones didn’t get hit too hard, but others were changed drastically.

Once I ran a raceway… now it is under water

In doing that, in removing the easy out option of telling people that the old game still exists if they want to visit places like the Mirage Raceway, did Blizzard set themselves up to eventually have to create something like WoW Classic?

I still feel like MMORPGs are new ground for Blizzard in some ways, even almost 15 years in.  SOE launched it first nostalgia driven progression server a dozen years back when Blizzard was still trying to come to grips with WoW, the game that took over the whole company.

It feels like WoW Classic is them finally discovering yet another facet of the genre that makes it different from their stand alone games of the past, where you released something, maybe did an expansion, released a few patches, then moved on to other things.

MMORPGs are long term commitments.

9 thoughts on “Was Cataclysm a Required Prerequisite for WoW Classic?

  1. SynCaine

    Classic has a lot going for it. For one, and perhaps most importantly, its a set date for everyone interested to start fresh. A lot of people are all going to show up on day one, and that leads to a lot of forward momentum.

    Second, a lot of people dislike how WoW is today vs Vanilla. Maybe that turns out to be false once Classic is live, but for now that’s why many are excited for it.

    Third, as you mention, its content that no longer exists in WoW. I don’t know how big a factor that is, because people who play WoW today are, IMO, pretty different from people who played vanilla and are interested in a return. Of the shockingly large group of people who have expressed interest in a return, almost none of them are current WoW players.


  2. bhagpuss

    If WoW Classic does nothing more than generate a new series of Instance Group posts it will have been money well spent.

    SynCaine touches on an important factor in support of Blizzard’s eventual decision to go Classic: it’s not an either/or choice. There’s every chance the vast majority of current WoW players will have no interest in Classic at all. At most they’ll try it for a few hours, find it hugely inferior to what they’re used to and leave… to go straight back to Live. Meanwhile hordes of people who currently give Blizzard no money at all will pile onto Classic at the cost of a sub. Some will stick, many will bounce, a few may even move across to Live.

    It’s hard to see how it won’t be a net positive, whatever happens.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Naithin

    I have very little interest in WoW Classic for myself. I could easily be arm twisted into playing if enough others of my gaming group are interested, but I’d see it being a rather short lived nostalgia trip.

    I don’t know if Cataclysm was a prerequisite per se, but I think it certainly helps with the interest levels. Nostalgia for some, potentially a curiosity in what came before for anyone who joined WoW post-Cata.

    What WOULD interest me a lot more is a progression server with a relatively snappy expansion release speed (i.e., not slower than 3 months, although I understand even that pace is incredibly unlikely).


  4. Kaylriene

    I think in terms of community reaction, Cataclysm was definitely a catalyst but not the only one. If the gameplay maintained a structure that maintained some degree of linkage with the original game today, I think a lot of the fervor for classic wouldn’t be there as strongly. WoW has changed so much in that while it has systems with the same names as those original features, they aren’t the same. Talents, class progression, specializations, etc – all of it is so wildly different now that it feeds that loop.

    I’m in the camp that Classic isn’t necessarily going to recapture a lot of players – I think there’s an audience for it, but I think it will start strong and pare down over the weeks. I’m certainly going to play it – it’s free with my subscription anyways! – but it is mainly going to be for the pure, unbridled nostalgia. There are a lot of people who I think are going to be let down because they recall it as a package deal with a full range of complex emotions and memories of which the game was only a fraction of the sum total – but that isn’t to say that those kinds of players won’t shift their viewpoint and keep playing Classic anyways, which is a likely outcome I think a lot of the detractors of Classic discount.

    But, to the original point, I think we would have seen Blizzard remain against the idea if Cataclysm never happened. If the original world as launched in 2004 was still there, I think you’d still have pockets of private servers (I had one with a friend during Wrath, but it was the full game including Wrath) – but nothing on the scale of Nostalrius and the chain of events that unfolded there. I’d argue that Classic has not only Cataclysm but also WoD to thank – when the game isn’t quite so hot in the eyes of the audience, people turn to their memories and Nostalrius definitely peaked in WoD. Part of the reason it will likely attract high numbers of players will be that the current live game in BfA is littered with problems of its own.


  5. Pallais

    I think Blizzard is realizing that having Classic servers is more freeing than restrictive. They can change more of the world now, piece by piece, because there will always be Classic available for the nostalgic. Let Classic be the anchor of the past and Retail can evolve more quickly.

    Heck, if they wanted to they could add in the option to see the original lands via the current Zidormi mechanic. You could leave out the NPCs and quests and just let folks be tourists. I wouldn’t be surprised by Blizzard deliberately ‘timewalking’ players back to the original lands in a future expansion.


  6. Izlain

    I’m sure they saw some nostalgia dollars from StarCraft Remastered, and allowing the old Diablos on GoG, so they already know they are sitting on a nice cash influx.

    I think it will be similar to the EQ progression servers though, and won’t see many concurrent users after the initial spike. Yet, blizz always manages to find an audience to bleed. It won’t be a failure, but no one can measure its success just yet.


  7. anypo8

    I played WoW through Lich King into the start of Cataclysm. I quit a couple of weeks into Cataclysm. It wasn’t nostalgia so much as bad design: I hated a bunch of the new content; hated the major nerfs my character got for no apparent reason; hated that the gear I’d spent a lot of my gold on was suddenly worthless.

    A couple of years ago I played the most popular private server until Blizzard killed it, then played another until it got grindy. Honestly, free was a bit too expensive for me in this case: I can’t imagine paying to play again.

    In my own head, I think I like MMOs, but it turns out I don’t stick with playing them. WoW, Guild Wars 2, EVE, all abandoned after a year or three. Tried a couple of others, never stuck. Probably my longest run was on Toontown Online, which I still enjoy when I bother to get it out, but rarely do.

    After thinking about it a lot, I’m still not sure what it would take for an MMO to hold my attention for a decade. Apparently just not the way I’m wired.


  8. Redbeard


    Yes, you needed Cataclysm to make enough people nostalgic for the old days.
    Breaking the Old World was one thing, but the biggest sin Cata did was to stop at the borders of Azeroth and then keep Outland and Northrend stuck in the past. It’s only in Outland and (half of) Northrend where you can see evidence of the old cold war between Alliance and Horde, before everything went all to hell in the Wrathgate event.

    Sure, Vanilla WoW had design flaws that a modern MMO wouldn’t make, but I’m fine with that. The story focus was on you, being an adventurer out in the world, rather than “let’s go save the world” from whatever the enemy du jour from an expac is. Yes, Vanilla WoW added AQ40 and Molten Core and whatnot, but those were just one of many things going on in a game that had a delightful lack of focus. Playing newer MMOs make me realize just how much the sandbox nature of Vanilla WoW really just let people do whatever they felt like without having to put a “story quest” on pause to do it.


  9. Nogamara

    Hehe, I’ve also been thinking long and hard what I’ll play, I also have 4 of 5 for a static dungeon group lined up, but we’ve not determined specifics, except that 2 people already had an interest in tank/healer – so at least I’m set to DPS, for now. Doesn’t make the choice easier, but we’ll see.


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