In spite of everything, WoW Classic somehow does what very few re-releases ever do - it recaptures the magic of one's first hours with a brand new, life-changing game, and it is just as pleasant and addictive this time around.
WoW Classic really shouldn't exist. There's absolutely no reason why this many fans should want to return to content that is over a decade old, let alone to celebrate its return by completely tanking the game's servers for the first few days as Blizzard scrambled to alleviate login congestion. In an industry that is constantly pushing forward, nostalgia is usually dished out in quick hits - a remaster of a game, sure, even some that take dozens of hours to complete - but there's always a new hook. Appearing on a modern console. Adding some elements that, in retrospect, would've vastly improved a game. Even just fixing some bugs can amount to a new lease on life for some IPs. WoW Classic doesn't do any of that.
The game is on the same platform it's always been on, with basically all of the same content, presentation, and mechanics intact. Sure, players can make the game look better, and WoW Classic add-ons are certainly lightyears ahead of some of the technology players were working with in 2006. However, at its core, WoW Classic actively removes most of the improvements that Blizzard has made to the game over the years in favor of an approach that amounts to unearthing a time capsule preserving the state of the MMORPG circa 2006.
All of that sounds like it would amount to a vaguely interesting trip down memory lane that quickly grows old, but it never does. In spite of everything, WoW Classic somehow does what very few re-releases ever do - it recaptures the magic of one's first hours with a brand new, life-changing game, and it is just as pleasant and addictive this time around.
WoW Classic is a game that favors community above nearly everything else. That being said, how that community behaves (and how it evolves) isn't really controlled by Blizzard here. Beyond the usual zone restrictions and PvP safeguarding, WoW Classic tasks players with uncovering what they want out of the game without a lot of guidance.
Inevitably, the answer since launch has seemed to be more often than not a return to communal MMORPGs, where players go out of their way to help others simply because they know how hard it was during their time grappling with the content. Alternatively, they grief: camping low level enemy faction members and making their lives a living hell. Then those enemy faction members’ allies show up to protect them, starting a game of faction warfare within the main game that has nothing to do with a quest about killing endless amounts of yetis for somebody's rod.
That inception of controlled chaos is the magic of WoW Classic, though. Even FF14 Shadowbringers, perhaps the best single expansion of an MMORPG ever released, doesn't quite muster the same level of enthusiasm for those moments that WoW Classic can. This chaos tends to spawn some of the best moments, whether it's being chased by a mob ten levels too high or trekking through dangerous territory with someone who also has to make the trip and forming a friendship through it. It's not that these elements aren't present in other games in the genre; it's just that they don't seem to occur with the same frequency that they do in WoW Classic.
The gameplay? It's exactly the same as any veteran will remember from vanilla WoW. For those who didn't play through it, that means it's harsh but fair. Players who manage their class abilities well and are able to cooperate well with others will find their experience vastly superior to those who don't want to engage with all of the game's sub-systems. Others who have a lone wolf approach to content may find themselves similarly hamstrung.There are class choices that players can make to help mitigate the above issues somewhat, but WoW Classic is a brutal affair that does not value its players' time very highly, at least when it comes to progression. The core hook - slowly accruing experience and gear to get to the next area and to complete the next quests to do the same ad nauseam, until the end-game - is as addictive as ever. But there's something in the way it's so unapologetic about the journey, and how satisfying that grind feels, that keeps the experience fresh.
That isn't to say that there aren't failings in WoW Classic, either, but they're once again a familiar tune for experienced players of the genre. Some classes are abysmal to level, for instance, while others thrive in nearly every situation. This is true even within the sub-classifications of classes: for magic users, Priests have incredible self-sustain and little downtime, whereas Mages can be egregiously slow in leveling depending on mana recovery and health management. Quest drops are stubborn to the point of the occasional ragequit from even the most tranquil explorer, while the quest design (which asks players too often to traverse the span of a map for one objective only to have to double-back to progress the quest) is laughable compared to the much more elegant design of FF14 Shadowbringers or even current WoW. These elements, like they did when the game first released, keep WoW Classic from being a close-to-perfect experience.
Ultimately, though, that doesn't really matter. It's what people signed up for. Players were adamant they wanted WoW Classic to perfectly recreate a small period of time in 2006 when everything about Azeroth felt exciting and new, and Blizzard delivered. To the people already participating in the game and attempting to get to end-game content, the many flaws that WoW Classic is riddled with are actually selling points - reminders about how far the genre has come, badges of honor to be earned once more. To the players who might be tempted to try vanilla WoW for the first time in WoW Classic, the as-of-now eager and helpful community will help assuage concerns over even the most abrasive design elements, and these new players may very well fall in love with the charming gameplay that won over millions in 2006.
Either way, the WoW Classic experience is so unique to the industry that it's bound to generate discussion well beyond its first two weeks of release. Blizzard delivered on exactly what it was supposed to, and WoW Classic is, in that regard, perfect. That doesn't mean it's the perfect game - just that it's a perfect game for a specific group of people, and maybe a very good game for those who will come after. Frankly, it's remarkable that something so inherently offensive to modern-day MMORPG sensibilities has the audaciousness to be this incredible.
WoW Classic is available now, included for all active subscribers of World of Warcraft. Screen Rant was provided with a month of subscription time for this review.