So, 5 years of World of Warcraft. My, how time flies. I can’t actually remember when I started playing, I know it wasn’t exactly at the game launch in Europe, I was playing Star Wars Galaxies back then and not interested in any game that didn’t have Imperial Stormtroopers. I remember that I quit Star Wars when Sony broke the game and started again from the ground up with the Combat “Upgrade” and that’s when I first dabbled with World of Warcraft. All I know is that I bought the first available “second wave” of boxed copies of the game after the first load had sold out in the UK and I started playing on Hellscream EU the day the server was activated.
My first character was Henriksen, my trusty Dwarven Hunter, and he was also the first I levelled to 60 (and the last I got to 80!). Things were very different back then in vanilla WoW. There were no arenas, no battlegrounds, no world pvp objectives. What we did have, however, was Southshore and Tarren Mill. Nestled in the Hillsbrad foothills, these two towns, one Horde one Alliance, both with Flightmasters, both within easy flying range of Ironforge and Undercity, both with conveniently-placed graveyards and both within 200 yards of each other were the scene of countless clashes between Horde and Alliance players. I don’t know if Southshore and Tarren MIll were deliberately set up this way to provoke the slaughter that ensued, but if it was an accident of game design it was a good one. Right from the off, even before anyone on Hellscream had hit level 60, there was carnage at Tarren Mill. Since hardly anyone was over level 50 back then, the fights tended to follow a repetitive pattern. 30-40 players of both factions would fight on the field between the two towns until one side would get pushed back, the losing side would fall back to the safety of their town, and then someone on the opposite side would get close enough to provoke the level 50 town guards (but to me they were just skull-level boss mobs!) who would rush out and promptly slaughter everyone. The defenders would suddenly become the attackers and chase the retreating enemy to the borders of their town, at which point their own town guards would come out and turn the tables yet again.
It never got old, and no attempt to impose any kind of plan on proceedings ever came to anything (so it was a lot like Alterac Valley). I cannot remember ever arriving at Southshore in the early days without there being some kind of battle going on, it was like a 24 hour bar brawl. People would get tired of it and leave, but there was always someone who’d just logged on and wanted some Southshore action to replace them. It was fantastic, emergent gameplay at its best. And then Warsong Gulch came along and the Tarren Mill/Southshore battles died literally overnight. And that was kinda sad.
The class talents were completely different to what we see today, too. Paladin blessings used to last 5 minutes. There were no Greater Blessings. Arcane Explosion wasn’t instant cast unless you spent FIVE talent points in the Arcane tree. Evocation was an Arcane talent and had a 10 minute cooldown, Ice Block was a Frost talent. Imagine not having Ice Block or Evocation, or instant-cast Arcane Explosions? Mana gems disappeared when you logged out. They didn’t come in stacks of three, you got one and that was it, and they shared a cooldown with Warlock healthstones. There was no Ice Lance, no Frostfire bolt. No Arcane Barrage. No Arcane Blast! Mage Armour didn’t exist until patch 1.3. Hurricane was a 40-point Balance Druid talent and had a cooldown. Swiftmend didn’t exist and only Restoration druids had access to Innervate. There was no Tree of Life form. There were no key rings, all your keys had to be left in your bags and the only 18 slot bag in the game was a drop from a 40 man raid boss. There used to be a talent that increased your Wand damage by 25% if you were dumb enough to spend 5 talent points in it. Holy Fire used to have a 5 second cast time. Items that granted bonuses to healing didn’t give bonuses to spell damage, a level 60 priest in full tier 2 raid armour and weapons did as much damage with their holy spells as someone who just dinged 60 in greens and quest rewards. Hunter pets often couldn’t keep up with their master and would lag so far behind that they’d despawn. Mages used to have a Detect Magic spell, unless this was cast, you couldn’t see what buffs a boss had. You know, useful stuff like enrage, frenzy, bloodthirst etc. Stuff your tanks might like to know about and have removed. Priests had different racial spells available to them that weren’t available to priests of any other race. Only Dwarven Priests had Fear Ward. There was no Need or Greed loot rolling, you either rolled on the loot or you didn’t. There was only one Auction House in Ironforge and one in Ogrimmar. If you were in Eastern Plaguelands and needed to get to Booty Bay in Stranglethorn Vale, you had to take a flight from each connecting flightmaster all the way down. You couldn’t just select Booty Bay as your destination from Light’s Hope Chapel flightmaster. You had to speak to each flightmaster at each stop every step of the way. There were no relics, totems or idols; druids, paladins and shamans had nothing to equip in the ranged weapon slot. There were no mage refreshment tables and the highest rank conjured water spell (which you could only get from a quest in Dire Maul) only produced a stack of 4 water. Raids had 40 people. 4 water per cast. Do the maths.
Instance Bosses used to despawn if you didn’t defeat them within a certain time after starting the fight. People who think the one hour per week time limit imposed on defeating Algalon the Observer in Ulduar is harsh, something like that used to be standard practice! Just as one example, if you didn’t defeat Vaelastrasz the Corrupt within an hour of pulling him, it was bye bye for 12 hours while you waited for him to respawn so you could try again. There’s a reason why Vael broke so many raiding guilds.
Zul’gurub was the first raid that wasn’t for 40 players, although you could “raid” some of the 5 player instances. You could take 10 players into Scholomance and Stratholme and take 15 players into Blackrock Spire. Believe it or not, people would still wipe. Someone at Blizzard must have had a good laugh on the day they decided where to place Zul’gurub, the first 20 player raid instance. Imagine you’re on a pvp server. Stranglethorn Vale, already known as Ganklethorn Vale (and for good reason), teeming with level 30+ players of both factions, all ganking the crap out of each other while struggling to complete their quests, level up and get the heck out of this hellhole, now hadanything up to a hundred or so bored, epic-covered level 60s of both factions waiting for Zul’gurub raids to start. The carnage reached epic proportions.
Another “undocumented feature” of Zul’gurub was the infamous corrupted blood plague that spread from there to… well… everywhere. The last boss, the Blood God Hakkar, cast an effect on the raid called Corrupted Blood that was basically an annoying Damage over time effect that spread from player to player if you didn’t spread out. Annoying that is, if you’re level 60. Completely lethal if you’re level 20, standing in the Ironforge Auction House next to an infected mage who just teleported out of the instance. It spread like wildfire and Blizzard were completely unable to do anything about it, being forced to hotfix the debuff and reset all their instance servers to remove the plague. Experience gained here came in useful for their undead invasion event before the Wrath of the Lich King launch, however.
I guess the point here is that the game is constantly changing, and it’s this constant change that keeps it fresh. I miss the old battles at Tarren Mill/Southshore, but the reason people stopped doing them and are never going to do them again is because it’s more convenient to visit a Battlemaster or just join from your pvp menu than it is to travel to the Hillsbrad Foothills and hope someone from the opposing faction is looking for a fight. The game has moved on, it’s more streamlined and user-friendly than it used to be and this is a good thing. We miss stuff not because it was good, but because there was nothing better to do. The Hillsbrad battles are pretty much exactly what goes on in the Field of Strife of Alterac Valley anyway, except you’re guaranteed to find a fight there, not always the case in Hillsbrad.
Will the game still be around in another 5 years? I imagine it will, but it won’t be much like the game we’re playing today. Personally, I can’t wait.