On this very special episode of Fourteen Ninety-Nine, Troy has a flashback to being chain-stunned in battlegrounds by a rogue with RNGsus on his side, while watching the BlizzCon annoucement for Classic servers…
For the first six months of its life, World of Warcraft was a complete shitshow. The game was, by almost all accounts, unfinished and rushed out the door, likely to beat some EverQuest hype train that was about to depart the station. The level 50-60 range was practically devoid of quests, and the mid-game was rather lacking in dungeon content to offset the grind. At one point, the French and German versions of the had a broken loot rolling system that just wouldn’t work. There was no group finder, no matchmaking, and no organized PvP system.
And yet, this was more polished and more fun than most of the MMOs that were out at the time. So much so that people remember it as if vanilla World of Warcraft was the result of the heavens opening up and the hand of Yahweh descending to deliver it unto the chosen peoples of the land (apparently, the intersect of disgruntled Everquest players and Frozen Throne fans), and those same people begged Blizzard to launch official vanilla throwback servers so hard that this year at BlizzCon they said they were going to do it. This is an insanely nutty idea that I am immensely looking forward to and today on Fourteen Ninety-Nine, we’re going to take a look at some of the more egregious violations of sanity that early World of Warcraft had with the kind of nostalgia that only exists elsewhere in vaporwave and arguments about the Berenstain Bears.
Note: I am not slandering Blizzard here. This is all about how massively things have improved in quality since the mid-2000s for MMOs. I would be all down to do vanilla WoW’s progression with some of the major QoL improvements recent expansions have functionally added. Hindsight is better than 20/20 in this case.
I apologize for the relative lack of interesting pictures in this article. I don’t have any screenshots from twelve years ago and getting new ones is complicated by Blizzard C&Ding all the 1.12 private servers.
What do you mean, nobody has the key? Fuck it. *disband*
Once upon a time, raid progression was a real hardcore progression system, even just to enter a raid. At launch, Blackrock Spire was split into Lower and Upper Blackrock Spire (LBRS and UBRS), a pair of incredibly long dungeons. Entering UBRS was done by actually entering LBRS, as they were the same actual instance. Except UBRS was literally gated behind a door you could only enter if one of your party members had the Seal of Ascension, a ring created by combining four rare drops from LBRS, none of which were guaranteed to drop in a single run. In order to definitively unlock UBRS for any raid party you formed, you would have to have run LBRS enough times that not only were the drops needed to craft the Seal of Ascension actually dropped, but you yourself would need to be the lucky person to roll higher than everyone else who wanted to craft the goddamn thing. And then your paladin would fuck up in the Rookery and your team would wipe.
After Blackrock Spire there were two 40-man raids available from the outset: Onyxia’s Lair and Molten Core. Anyone who remembers these fondly either had an incredibly good raiding guild or is lying through their teeth.
Onyxia’s Lair had a similar requirement to UBRS in order to gain access to the raid, except instead of one person needing the item, everyone needed it, and the process to get it was a world-spanning quest chain (14 quests for Horde, 16 for Alliance, both of which required farming trash mob drops in both Blackrock Depths (the 5-man dungeon precursor to Blackrock Spire) and UBRS. Also, parts of the quest chain were started by random drops from mobs in UBRS after you had completed the previous quests in the chain. Weeks of praying to RNGsus later you would finally end up with everything you needed to do Onyxia’s Lair. Your 40-man raid party would enter the instance and be greeted with… one tunnel and a boss room. And whelps. The difficulty and challenges of a smooth completion of Onyxia was shown to the world in 2006 when a recording of a raiding group’s Ventrilo surfaced and was immortalized with a Flash animation (oh man remember those) called Onyxia Wipe. If you have ever heard someone saying “many whelps, handle it”, “that’s a 50 DKP minus”, or “WHO THE FUCK WAS THAT”, this is the source, and it continues to be one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen on the internet.
Aside: I’m not going to try to fully explain the Dragon Kill Points (DKP) system, but for the purpose of further hammering in how much of a mess vanilla was, it was a currency in EverQuest that raid groups gained by guild kills of dragons, and was used to weight guild members’ influence on the overall dragon kill count of a guild for the purpose of distributing loot. EverQuest raiders who ended up in World of Warcraft were dismayed by the lack of such a power trip enabling system and invented their own DKP system that had no in-game representation. Eventually DKP addons for WoW were created, but with the relatively recent advent of personal loot and the multitude of academic papers written about how shit the DKP system was*, no one uses it anymore.
Molten Core was the other 40-man raid, and it was the big one. If Blackrock Spire was a slog, Molten Core was a marathon. More interesting, much more difficult, and longer, the raid was opened when World of Warcraft launched and the world first completion was 154 days later. Most completions took between 4 and 6 hours, and a lot of the early attempts barely made it halfway through the instance in the seven days alloted per group before the raid reset. This is actually more of a case of the awesome of early World of Warcraft, mind you. Blizzard made something so difficult it wasn’t completed for two whole content patches, and even into the later stages of vanilla World of Warcraft, clearing Molten Core was a triumph.
The only problem was getting there. Remember when I mentioned Blackrock Depths? Molten Core’s entrance was at the end of that dungeon. If you didn’t have the attunement, each 5-man section of your 40-man party would have to run through Blackrock Depths in its entirety to reach the entrance to Molten Core and meet up on the other side of the raid portal. But if you took a quest outside of Blackrock Depths that told you to go to Molten Core and pick up a little item from the entrance and bring it back to the quest giver, you could enter Molten Core by just asking the him in future runs to teleport you right to the entrance.
Blackwing Lair had a simplified attunement quest, similar to Molten Core’s, acquired by killing an orcish quartermaster near the entrance to Blackrock Spire and reading the letter from his boss he drops (which includes the line “P.S. Destroy this letter, idiot.”, no shit). You then have the fortune of needing to run through Upper Blackrock Spire (ahaha you thought you were done with that dungeon you poor fuck), kill the final boss, and use the glowing orb behind his corpse. You can now teleport to Blackwing Lair from the entrance to Blackrock Spire instead of having to run through all of UBRS each time.
Seven years later, Blizzard remembered how much they liked milking the everloving shit out of Blackrock Mountain for dungeons and added two more.
Free stuns and chain procs and instas, oh my
PvP was hilarious. Battlegrounds for organized PvP showed up not long into WoW’s life, because other than that your only option for PvP was to turn your flag on (or live on a PvP server) and wander around in the wilderness hoping that you found someone else with their PvP flag on before they found you. People then realized your chances of winning a fight improved if you roamed in groups, and eventually you’d have wars breaking out in high level zones at random and roving squads of decked out players ganking you for having the audacity of being alone. Or you could be looking for a fight in a zone with no one in it for hours.
One of the best classes for PvP both solo and in groups has always been the Rogue. They have plenty of stuns, DoTs, and interrupts, and played effectively, can tear down a team’s back line (the squishies – priests and mages notably) in seconds. This does come at the price of only having leather armour and a fairly low stamina pool, but who cares, the other team’s support is dead and yours isn’t.
PvP had a notable feature in vanilla WoW: specialization talents. These were technically useful for PvE as well, but some of them truly shined in PvP. Rogues could equip one-handed maces, and with the Mace Specialization talent available in the Combat tree, they had a chance to stun a target with any attack made with a mace. Arms Warriors with the Sword Specialization talent gained a chance to deal a free extra attack with any attack made with a sword.
Now, two things applied here. These were procs made possible on any attack made with these weapons, including special attacks, finishers, and abilities that calculated based on weapon damage. Meaning you could use a finishing move on an opponent, get the proc, and be damn sure they were dead. Additionally, the attack from the proc counted as an attack for the purposes of the proc chance, and with some luck, the free attack could gain another free attack.
You can see where this is going.
Sword Specialization could also crit, and it could proc off of special procs on your weapon and vice versa. It was entirely possible to see a Warrior open up with Mortal Strike, get a sword spec proc crit, proc a weapon’s special trait, and then get another sword spec proc off of that. Considering warriors with two-handed swords already did more or less enough damage to take off a quarter of someone’s health bar with a single Mortal Strike, this chain would result in a very dead opponent in a single button press. Warriors with pocket healers could take on entire parties at a time.
This might be coming back in a sense in the next expansion, Battle for Azeroth. There’s a massive stat squish incoming and in one demo, someone at WoWhead noticed that the Warlock heavy-hitter spell Chaos Bolt was doing about 40% damage to a character’s health pool in a single 3-second cast time. Get fukken in.
Uphill both ways in the raid AND WE LIKED IT
For a while, before Meeting Stones existed, at least one warlock and two other raid members had to get to the instance entrance ahead of everyone else and start summoning. Ritual of Summoning, gained at level 20, did the same thing it does now, except back in the day it was the only way to quickly get your entire raid to the instance entrance. Nowadays you can just queue up an instance through the content finder while you’re all futzing around in Stormwind or whatever. When they added Meeting Stones, they were used for finding extra players to fill in slots in a party, and not actually for summoning the rest of your party if you didn’t have a Warlock handy. Meeting Stones weren’t supplements for Warlocks until Burning Crusade, by which point everyone had stopped playing Warlocks as their raid rotation was effectively “hit Corruption once, then spam Shadow Bolt for 10 minutes”.
But realistically, this wasn’t a problem. There was almost as much a feeling of accomplishment of getting all 40 players to the instance successfully and prepared to enter (including having all the mages sit around and conjure food and water, a couple units at a time, distribute it, and then tossing Arcane Intellect on everyone over the course of five minutes) as there was actually getting through the raid with a minimum of wipes.
But god damn, was it ever satisfying. I wouldn’t say the current system of flex raids and LFR has diminished the value of getting through a raid. In a lot of ways, it’s improved the experience significantly. But there was always a specific feeling of community and togetherness involved in the old raids in pre-raid-matchmaking World of Warcraft. 40 players, working together, delegating subcommand, planning strategies, preparing for the encounter, and then executing them as precisely as possible, and coming out on top, was as much a social accomplishment as it was a technical one.
Sure, farming Maraudon for nature resist gear sucked. Hunters having a dead zone between 5 and 8 metres away from them where they simply couldn’t attack (too far away for melee, too close for ranged) was gnarly enough that they eventually removed it in Burning Crusade. And the whole specialization of Fire Mage being effectively useless in a lot of the endgame content (five instances in Blackrock Mountain? Don’t mind if I do!) was as pants-on-head as the feral kid who wasn’t ever really expected to pass any of his classes and was basically just dumped into the system so his mother could sit at home and drink boxed wine and cry all day.† But it’s not only what we did and enjoyed, but was more fun than a lot of the other MMOs at the time. At least we didn’t have to put up some inter-guild dialogue to determine who got which world spawns which days of the week because there was no instancing system (sorry, EverQuest.)
Given the choice of modern theme park WoW that’s flexible enough you can get through it with as few as ten people or as many as thirty, versus old-school one-step-above-sandbox WoW with 40 man as the one true endgame size, I’ll take the modern one. But if I could have both, I would.
As long as I don’t have to pay a second subscription.
Don’t do this to me, Blizzard.
* Maybe when your meritocratic loot distribution system is described and cited as a point of frequent social devastation in a thesis entitled “Addiction and the Structural Characteristics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games”, you need to step back and think it over. Or maybe I’m just used to raiding with people who aren’t assholes.
† Other things that sucked horribly include targets having a maximum of 8 debuffs on them at once, and any new debuff applied would shove the oldest debuff off into oblivion, the majority of Paladins not knowing they could complete a short class quest to gain the ability to rez people, raid trash being a cycle of pull, drink, pull, drink, pull, eat and drink, repeat, Blessing of Protection only lasting five minutes and being a single-target buff, Retribution being at the bottom of the DPS charts… thinking about it, Paladins pretty much got shafted for raiding in vanilla.