When World of Warcraft released initially, I was starting my first semester at college. It was the perfect time to play the game. I had plenty of free time, and so did my close friends. Like so many other groups of friends in 2004, we all jumped in together.

That semester, I leveled a Paladin to level 60. Then, after a car accident that left me in bed for a few months, I leveled up a Druid as well. Those were the kind of situation you needed to level to the max 60 back in the early days of Warcraft

It was addictive and new to most people who hadn’t experienced a game like this before. It took so long to level a character that they became a part of your in-game identity. You were proud to say, “I’m a Paladin,” or “I’m a Hunter.” At the time on campus, you would hear people in groups talking about it as well. You’d overhear a conversation that was about gold or leveling, and you would know precisely what they were talking about. College was the perfect time to play because of the newly found genuinely free time, and the friend groups that naturally form on campus. It also was a hard time to play as I know at least one person who can say they dropped out because of WoW.  

Over time, a series of official expansions and gamer produced mods came out that improved the game’s user experience. Instead of reading cryptic quest text to find where you needed to kill the next raptor or boar, you could follow an arrow or look at a map. What used to take 70+ hours of playing nowadays takes less than 10. And while it never fell below any other MMORPG (massively-multiplayer online role-playing game) WoW waned in popularity from time to time.

I returned to it a few times through the years; each time lured back by friends who had decided to play the game. That was key, having real-life friends to play the game alongside. When Warcraft was first released, it was about experiencing the world. But over time, the focus shifted. It became about leveling up as quickly as possible. That is how to have “the most fun.”

The game itself changed so drastically over time that “Vanilla” WoW (the original release version) became mythologized. It was a “back in my day” argument. Players would reminisce about what they thought of as the glory days of WoW’. Instead of getting ten people together and doing a dungeon that had been done a thousand times before, you were joining with 40 strangers and trying to coordinate well enough to do something that was still relatively new. Getting 40 people to schedule a specific time to be online is complicated enough. 

“Retail” WoW has had its ups and downs with its latest expansions. The numbers would shift dramatically as it lost subscribers, gained subscribers, and fought to keep subscribers. But WoW never lost it’s number 1 spot in the MMO world. 

This past month Blizzard, the makers, and publishers of World of Warcraft released World of Warcraft Classic. Vanilla WoW, in all it’s janky brutal glory. Included in your subscription to World of Warcraft retail (about $15 a month) you can now access World of Warcraft Classic. 

The game immediately exploded in popularity. It overtook all other games on Twitch.tv and became the most-watched game for about a week, which is impressive in the age of Fortnite and tournaments that offer hundreds of millions in prizes. The game pulled in gamers who remember the glory days of 15 years ago and those who had only heard about it.

I was pulled back in too. But not by the game, by my gaming friend group. Logging onto Discord and seeing everyone playing the same game without you gets old quick and then comes the peer pressure. And you can be sure that it will come. It was inevitable I was going to sign up for a least a month. 

I should have done it sooner. Now I’m behind in levels and playing on off-hours to catch up. Honestly, it’s not any fun, but I still do it. If I didn’t have an audiobook playing while I was soloing it would be impossible to play by myself. That’s how boring it is. But the constant pressure of seeing everyone online, playing together, is too much to stand. So, I keep grinding.

Then there is the addiction and the toll it takes on families. One player in my group already quit and came back once due to pressure from his wife. He said it felt just like the original release when his parents where the ones telling him to stop playing. The people in our lives have changed, but the impact of the game hits them in the same way. I’m not in college anymore. I’m not bedridden. I have responsibilities to others, and finding time to play takes a back seat to that. So, what does that mean? 

Less sleep mainly. 

The game itself has been left behind in terms of design, both gameplay and visually. It feels old to play, not just in difficulty but in the clunky nature of a Western RPG from 2004. And with a wife, a child, and a job, the game feels like a chore than an escape. The difficulty and speed of the Classic experience are deliberately punishing and slow, and in 2019 I can feel the drag a lot more than I did in 2004. 

But it’s a shot of nostalgia directly into the heart, and it feels good even though you know it shouldn’t. If anything, playing WoW classic has me interested in trying out some modern MMORPG’s like Final Fantasy 14 or going back to Retail WoW. I want to experience what fifteen years of iteration feel like. I want to see what a newer game does to the genre and how it plays, looks, sounds, and feels.

Final Fantasy XIV had a notoriously lousy release. Fans of Final Fantasy XI (the series previous MMO offering) hated the launch game. It was so bad that the developer took a re-do. They released a second version of the game that fixed what the community hated about the launch. I want to see what that looks like in 2019. I know how Warcraft does it, I’m tempted to see how someone else treats it. 

Ultimately, his version of Warcraft isn’t a jumping-on-point for non-MMO players. It’s a call home for veterans, and a peek behind the curtain for new players. I doubt I’ll continue after my first month, only because I can’t keep up. And the place I’m at in life, and in the game, it’s all not as much fun as it used to be. 

You can’t go back home.