World of Warcraft is ironically enjoying a mini-renaissance right now by returning to its past. WoW Classic is the strongest driver of World of Warcraft at the moment, as evidenced by a host of Twitch streams. That means Classic is pushing WoW subscriptions, potentially more than the modern version of the same game.
And yet, WoW Classic is every bit the frustrating experience I remember from playing the original World of Warcraft back in 2004. Early on in my Classic play, I was doing a quest called "Finding the Antidote,” where I needed poison sacs from Venomtail Scorpids. This quest was tied to another with a 45-minute timer, so I needed to get four poison sacs and get them back to the questgiver. No problem right?
Negative. Between other players also killing the Venomtail Scorpids, and the drop rate of the poison sacs, it actually took me most of the time to get the quest done. I come within two minutes of failing. I don't know what my Warrior was doing to these Scorpids that was ruining their poison sacs, but the listed drop rate was a paltry 34%. Just swing your sword a little slower, man!
I'm not the only player who has a story like this. The Barrens, one of the early leveling regions for Horde players, is infamous for having a number of animal killing quests where it feels like you're committing genocide simply to get a few quest items. The Alliance has Westfall, an area with roughly the same issues. "63% of all Goretusks in Westfall don't have livers," wrote Reddit user DogeCore9110.
"Stew be damned, I'm not running around Westfall for 4 hours killing meatless vultures for that shit," replied Reddit user RedSn0Living. "Then I spent an hour hunting for ingredients for Blood Sausage. So, what comes around and all that."
World of Warcraft was once full of stories like that. WoW Classic is a machine, churning out water cooler tales about deep, deep frustration. Misery loves company, and part of building Classic's community is a shared understanding of the trials and tribulations that every player has to suffer through. Quests like the "The Green Hills of Stranglethorn," where you have to collect a number of random drop pages to complete the quest; regions like Southshore and Tarren Mill, where world PVP is an almost constant facet. There's an intense amount of rage and tedium around certain quests and areas; places where players just grit their teeth and push through it.
"The worst are the wingless buzzards in Badlands. Can't find them, the only reliable spot is camped by 10 people whispering profanities to you, and most don't have wings. I can see your gigantic wings flapping two of them what do you mean you don't have any?" wrote Reddit user PublicLeopard.
"I am still unable to safely recover my corpse, for I know that my insolence has landed me on the blacklist of a number of high-level Hordes. Stranglethorn shall be forever hostile to me," said WoW forums user Anthropea. "I still think this game is amazing. 14 years after its conception, it is still able to birth such feelings and emotions in players’ hearts. Sadly, for me and for many others, this game will be restricted to the starting zones. For dare we venture forward, certain death would await."
"The first part of ["Helcular's Rod"] involves getting the rod to drop off a Yeti in a cave. The problem is this has to be one of the lowest drop rates in the game. I killed like 100+ yeti for an hour before it dropped. Everyone else was in the cave killing too. Crazy low drop rate and the quest log doesn't even warn you about it, like it does some other low drop rate quests," wrote MMO-Champion user Zaqwert.
In retail, similar quests that require you to collect X items from local enemies tend to move rather quickly. Not only are the drop rates higher in retail World of Warcraft, but multiple people can attack the same target and receive credit. In Classic, only the first person to attack and their group members get credit for killing a quest mob. This means that named enemies sometimes have lines of players waiting for them to respawn, everyone trying to get the first hit. In retail WoW, you're mostly in-and-out; you can run by an unconnected mass of players fighting a named enemy, and help them out briefly before going on your way. Retail World of Warcraft respects your time. If you have 30 minutes, you can definitely get things done in that window. In Classic, that's more of a toss-up.
WoW Classic trades on this problem though, because frustration and difficulty build meaning. Players of World of Warcraft in its original incarnations remember these quests, even 15 years later. They recall the deep anger and interminable hours spent on a quest, or fighting the opposite faction in Hillsbrad, but they also remember the rush of feeling and emotion when they were finally free. You remember getting that last tusk or skull after two hours of grinding, or finally getting your first six-slot bag at random. You remember finally having enough gold or silver to pick up your next skill level, or your first mount. You remember that one group that fell apart in Scarlet Monastery after it took you hours to build the group in the first place. Overcoming hardship breeds meaningful memories.
This is the thing that retail World of Warcraft can learn from its predecessor. I think part of WoW should be achievable for the mainstream players, and should allow you to utilize your time well. But if all your content is like that, you're not building any lasting connections. There needs to be some lows in order for highs to exist, and retail World of Warcraft has tried to scrub away many of its potential lows. If Blizzard Entertainment can transpose some of that hardship over to modern WoW, it might help the next expansion feel as meaningful as a 15-year experience.