Do you believe that time travel is possible? It most certain is in the realm of fantasy virtual worlds. Legacy servers from many early MMORPGs are popping up all over the world.
Recently, I had the privilege to take a time machine and travel back to Azeroth exactly the way it was back in November of 2004 on the Elysium vanilla WoW server. Since then I have been enchanted and captivated yet again by the enthralling World of Warcraft MMORPG. This was all made possible by the hard work and dedication of the Elysium vanilla WoW team.
Why are legacy servers so popular?
It’s very simple. After years of bad design decisions made more out of concern for growing the demographic to increase profits than for the good of the game, the current version of World of Warcraft comes off as a pitiful shadow of its former self.
Like a cheap knockoff of a Rolex watch sold by a street vendor, the WoW of today is WoW in name only. Over the years, WoW has been continually dumbed down and degraded to the point that it’s is practically unplayable. One shotting enemies — which is the experience of players in WoW newbie zones — feels unrewarding and takes about as much skill as shooting fish in a barrel.
On the Elysium vanilla WoW server, one can experience WoW in its most pristine and authentic state.
As I ventured into the lands of Azeroth on Elysium, the sharp contrast between vanilla WoW and the WoW of Legion hit me like a ton of bricks. But before we begin, let me tell you how we got here…
The Cataclysm that Destroyed WoW
Over the years, I have been a fierce critic of Blizzard. I have spent a lot of time analyzing WoW, chronicling its demise and literally begging Blizzard to change their ways. I and others believe that Cataclysm was the beginning of the end for WoW. With this ill-fated expansion, Blizzard in their arrogance and pride, completely gutted the original continents of Azeroth and created new quests and new NPCs and by doing so erased the classic goodness that was vanilla WoW.
Everything that was good and noble about vanilla WoW was destroyed by one expansion. From that point forward WoW lost millions of subscribers at the chickens of reckless design came home to roost.
Over the years, the erosion of WoW continued unabated. After Cataclysm in later expansions, the power of players in relation to NPCs grew larger and created a dangerous imbalance. The world itself became cheapened by this. Today most players out level the zones they are in and even WoW director Ion Hazzikostas admits this is a problem.
Everything from level one and onwards in the current version of WoW is meant to catapult players to the endgame. In vanilla WoW, players had to work for their levels and enjoy the journey. With WoW’s current design philosophy, the destination has become more important than the journey.
The leveling up process has become so banal and unsatisfying that Blizzard now offers boots to level 100. Just think for a moment what Blizzard is admitting here by offering players the chance to bypass content for a $60 fee. It’s really an admission that pre-Legion expansion content and design are sub-standard. Why else would anyone want to pay to skip zones and encounters that cost millions of dollars to create?
Vanilla WoW on Elysium: The Past is the Future
So what is it like playing vanilla WoW on Elysium Darrowshire PVE server?
What struck me from the outset is that I had to think, plan and work in order to progress my characters. As you rise in levels mobs take skill to vanquish. You must keep your wits about you and be aware of your surroundings at all times. You must know your class and think strategically. Failure to do so means certain death and a long run back to your corpse as a ghost from a distant and inconvenient graveyard. I have created 4 characters and some are in the low 20’s and I have died many times.
Doing the Deadmines dungeon run surprised and shocked me with its unsuspecting difficulty. Our group died 3 times and we had a level 32 paladin tanking for us.
Gear matters. Upgrading your skills at the trainer matters too. Tradeskills matter as well as they can provide you things that will give you a slight edge: bandages to heal, food to eat, liquids to drink and good gear as well. Beware, only a fool will leave town with no food or drink. All these things matter because the world of Azeroth in 2004 was harsh and unforgiving. The more you play, the more you want to play. This is how a MMO should be!
What is even more unexpected is that players are constantly looking for groups (LFG). Even at level 5 players were banding together in caves to complete quest objectives. Players are talking to each other in general channels and even being polite. This is unheard of in Legion. There is a real sense of community in Elysium!
Elite mobs can be found in many zones and players must group up to defeat them. Danger lurks around every corner and behind every tree in vanilla WoW and that is completely missing from Legion.
The classes are all unique and have distinct roles. This is a big contrast to the “all classes must be equal” design philosophy that seems to end up watering down many MMORPGs. Leveling up a warrior is not easy as I have found out and that is how it should be as the warrior is class made to be a great tank not an all things to all people class.
While vanilla WoW was truly revolutionary in its attention to detail and with its superior polish, there’s also a tangible feeling of restraint and seriousness in vanilla WoW compared to WoW Legion. There are no dungeon finders, no raid finders, no pet battles, no heirloom loot, no motorcycles and no flying mounts.
After years of criticizing the design of WoW, I am astonished at how good it actually was back in 2004-2006. Vanilla WoW achieved near perfection of MMO design because of the synergistic and complementary nature of all the elements of its gameplay.
The Shadow of EverQuest
What has really struck me about vanilla WoW is how remarkably challenging it is across the board. Playing vanilla WoW for even a few minutes makes you realize that the WoW developers were big fans of EverQuest — the hardcore MMORPG that is the inspiration for WoW. Vanilla WoW is infused with a reverence and respect for challenge throughout.
Another realization I would like to share is that in vanilla WoW, the fantastical world of Azeroth really is the star of the show. As a player, you feel small and insignificant. Even the gigantic trees dwarf you. Feeling weak and helpless versus the world gives the player a reason to go forth in the world to remedy that imbalance and start a journey of adventure and discovery. This feeling of smallness and insignificance creates an existential imperative within the virtual world that challenges the player to walk down a path of advancement where they must learn and grow to survive and thrive.
Everyone who falls under the spell of vanilla WoW is on a journey from zero to possible hero. Where you go and how you go is all up to you. This is how a great fantasy MMORPG should be. Everything about vanilla WoW — from the masterful art to the satisfying animations — is designed to immerse and seduce the player into a deeper relationship with the world itself. Hopefully along the way, you’ll meet other players just like yourself.
Giving Props to Meaningful PVP
While I am not a fan of PVP, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the quality of vanilla WoW PVP is a big reason for the popularity of legacy vanilla servers. There are currently 3 PVP servers and one PVE server.
The PVP experience of vanilla WoW is in such demand that there are astronomically long queues just to log in. Recently Elysium devs recently had to create an additional server to satisfy this demand.
A Challenge to the Current WoW Team
I would like to challenge Ion Hazzikostas, Alex Afrasiabi, J. Allen Brack and anyone else on the WoW team that still cares about what made WoW great to spend a just one week playing on the Elysium server. If you work on WoW at Blizzard you really owe it to yourself to do this. No words can adequately express the feelings I have been experiencing these past two weeks.
The first time you enter zones like Elwynn Forest, Tirisfal Glades, Mulgore or Westfall — the list is endless — will leave you breathless. Experiencing a magical world that is full of challenge, danger and wonder at the same time will blow you away. Seeing players bustling about in towns, cities and in the wilds and actually using chat channels to form groups will put a smile on your face if not melt your heart.
Please Blizzard, just do this. If you do, you’ll understand immediately why millions of MMMO players have returned to vanilla WoW.
World of Warcraft in its original state is an unequalled masterpiece of virtual world design. I would go even as far as to say that vanilla WoW is national and international treasure — it’s just that good. What the legacy server movement is doing is equivalent to what the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. is doing: the noble work of preservation of our history and our culture. Virtual worlds that have been abandoned are important parts of our culture too and they need to be preserved and sustained in some way.
What is so remarkable is that it took the dedication of the true fans to finally bring vanilla WoW back to the masses. All along, the diehard fans who volunteered to bring a pristine version of Azeroth back to life have been the true keepers of the flame. They are the real heroes of Azeroth. To them, I and many others are eternally grateful for the great privilege that being able to play vanilla WoW on a legacy server.
The shutdown of Nostalrious by a cease and desist letter from the Blizzard legal department was the biggest story of the MMO world in 2016. It showed to the world that the fans care far more about WoW than the suits at Blizzard. The fate of legacy servers was on everyone’s mind at the recent BlizzCon in 2016 but nobody was allowed to talk about it at Blizzard and the fans were prevented from asking questions about it as the questioners at the Q&A panel were all pre-screened.
The rising popularity of legacy servers shows that millions of players are craving an authentic WoW experience. Today the only place you can truly experience Azeroth the way it was meant to be is by playing on legacy servers such as Elysium.
I believe that Blizzard Entertainment needs to do everything they can to preserve and honor vanilla WoW. If Blizzard has millions of dollars to spend on prizes for e-sports, then surely they have resources to offer vanilla WoW servers to their fans.
WoW has made a cultural impact on the world that goes far beyond anything they could have dreamed of. WoW is so ubiquitous that it has transcended the prison of intellectual property — at least in its pristine form — and belongs to the gamers of the world. Azeroth, like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth exists in the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world and fans who create non-profit recreations and variants of such works should be free to do so, unhindered by the law. I really hope that Blizzard have the decency and humility to restrain their legal appetite for protecting their intellectual property and channel that energy into protecting the sanctity of Azeroth instead.
Blizzard, please do the right thing and find some way to officially preserve the integrity and authenticity of the virtual world of Azeroth circa 2004-2006. If not, then at least leave the WoW vanilla server community alone. What they have done be recreating vanilla WoW servers hurts no one and is in fact a respectful tribute and homage to the genius of the talented people at Blizzard who created this phenomenon in the first place.