There are a few of us in the Game on Aus community that have been playing games together since we were kids. My favourite genre of games, and where some of our fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). We are going to take you down our memory lane as we explore our origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 8 I will be exploring 2004’s World of Warcraft which changed the landscape of MMORPG’s almost overnight. It’s such a big game with such a lasting impact that I’ll be covering this in two parts.
Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online
Part 2 – EverQuest
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call
Part 4 – Anarchy Online
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies
Part 7 – EverQuest II
World of Warcraft (WoW) was released on 23 November 2004, developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment, so it is apt that I am doing this article now, a little over 2 weeks prior to their 14th anniversary. WoW was the next big MMORPG on the market and it was in a setting we already knew which was important. Warcraft lore was still fresh in our minds thanks to Blizzard’s RTS Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos released in 2002 and characters such as human paladin Arthas Menethil, orc warchief Thrall and the night elf leader Tyrande Whisperwind were heroes. I really enjoyed playing Warcraft II and III, so to be able to play an MMORPG in the Warcraft world was a very exciting prospect. By the way, Warcraft III Reforged has just been announced for release next year! See more here.
I personally couldn’t wait to jump into WoW, having been a massive fan of MMORPGs now for 7 years, it was my favourite gaming genre. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in the WoW beta test in early November 2004. The first things that struck me were how smooth the game ran; how cool the graphics were with a mix of cartoon and fantasy, and I was given quests galore straight off the bat. I played around with the use of emotes by typing ‘/’ commands such as /flex, /laugh and even /fart! My personal favourite was /train and loved how all the races did their unique version of “tooooot toooooot!! chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga, tooooot toooooot!” By far the cutest version were the female gnomes.
I completed quest after quest and could not get enough of them, this was such a novelty not seen as prolific in previous MMOs. The quest log text slowly unveiled line by line before you could click the accept button, and there were no quest markers showing you where to go. This is before user interface add-ons were created so you had to figure these things out for yourself. I loved how the quests rewarded me with new weapons, armour, food and gold, and slowly taught me about the lore of the land and how best to use my character’s new skills. It wasn’t long before I had dinged level 3 and had to find my trainer to learn new skills for a small fee. Sometimes I didn’t have enough gold to buy the new skills, so I had to go kill some more mobs or complete more quests to afford these skills.
There were no map markers to show where your trainer was, you had to run around the nearest town to try find them. Asking for help in the general zone chat was one of the methods used, and you were often given a lot of helpful tips from friendly players (unless you were in the Barrens, /shudder). You would unlock new skills to purchase after every even level you earned (2, 4, 6, etc). I added these new skills to my hot bar manually and continued through the quest lines, finding many side quests along the way.
During the World of Warcraft beta test I tried out multiple classes such as Paladin, Priest, Mage, Warrior and tried out several races on both Alliance and Horde factions such as Dwarves and Gnomes, Taurens and Orcs. I particularly liked the Tauren starting lands of Mulgore and the Dwarf lands of Dun Morogh. Each class seemed viable and interesting to play with key abilities that suited the holy trinity we experienced in DAoC with tanks, healers and DPS characters.
Some of the art designs were familiar from the Warcraft RTS games, and I was loving what I was playing. My friends and guildmates were super hyped for the November release and we eagerly counted down the days to launch. When November 23 finally came around for the release day of World of Warcraft, there was such a massive influx of players to the game that we were faced with login queues, often for hours at a time. The game would say you were 5600 in the queue with the queue time being almost 3 hours, and there was absolutely nothing you could do about it. You would login and then literally come back in that amount of time for your character to login. It got to the point on the weekends where I would set my alarm for 4am, wake up and log my character into the game queue, check the queue time and go back to sleep for that amount of time.
This sheer volume of players also lead to sever instability especially on the popular servers like Blackrock, which many Australian gaming communities/guilds at the time agreed to be their main PvP server, but the server also had a larger than normal American player presence. There would be server crashes and characters could get stuck in one action for minutes at a time without being able to do anything.
Once you were in-game though there were players everywhere!! One of the initial quests in the Dwarf starting lands of Coldridge Valley tasked you with killing 5 Rockjaw Invaders. There were so many people running around in the snow trying to kill these that as soon as you saw one it died. It was hard to get the first hit in as once you hit the Rockjaw first, the kill tag becomes yours no matter how long it takes you to kill it. This was called npc tagging, and it was a blessing as well as a curse. Many MMORPGs have since done away with this system where any player or group of players that damages a mob gets credit, rather than just the player or group that hit it first. It led to sometimes frustrating waits as you had to basically line up to kill a certain named mob to progress a quest.
Spread throughout the lands in World of Warcraft were key quest npcs or boss mobs that dropped special loot. So many people were camping these spawns preventing you from killing them that it stopped your quest progress. You could still kill other animals/monsters so you were still earning XP, you just weren’t able to progress your quests efficiently. There was literally a line of people waiting to kill Hogger in the Human lands of Southern Elwynn Forest. You couldn’t help but laugh at the situation as you waited for your turn to smite him.
Aside from killing quests, there were also item collection quests but these too were swamped with players parked in common spawn points waiting for them to spawn, only for them to be snaffled up as quickly as they appeared. Resource spawns were also scattered around the lands but, like npc tagging, you had to hit the ore with your pickaxe first otherwise it would be stolen right from under you. Aussie lag didn’t help us here either.
Eventually the masses subsided and moved on to the next zone of Loch Modan, and as time went on the playerbase spread themselves out. It was an amazing thing to witness. I did notice that quests were very easy to complete on my own and it wasn’t until the teen levels that group quests introduced you to the first group dungeons in the game like the Deadmines for Alliance and Ragefire Chasm for Horde. Aside from the dungeon quests though, many of the games quest could easily be completed by yourself. This gave me a sense that the game, at least in these early stages, was designed more for solo players than for groups. Then once you got used to this solo mentality, it was hard to break it even when you realised it was problematic.
World of Warcraft was a more casual take on MMORPGs than previous games in the genre, and one of the systems representing this was “rested xp”. If a player logged out in an inn, they would build up a pool of bonus “rested” experience that would result in double xp being awarded for a while after they logged in next. The longer you were logged out, the more rested XP you built up. This system helped alleviate the disparity between the hardcore players who never had a chance to build much rested xp, and the casual players who did not actively play as much. This suited me and my mates because some could play more than others, and this rested xp helped us catch up.
Another element to experience gain was group xp. Having come fresh from constant grouping in Dark Age of Camelot, we had a steady group of 8 of us that played together all the time. We all joined the login queue and I invited everyone to my group. Once I had five people in the group and invited the 6th, the group was converted to a raid. At the time we didn’t understand what this meant, but we ventured forth gathering everyone’s quests and then started to hunt everything in sight. The /train hilarities commenced!
The laughs were short-lived however because after a while of hunting literally everything that moved, hardly any of us were gaining XP. It was confusing until we realised that the XP earned was split by members of each group within the raid. If a monster was worth 10xp per kill, normally if I was soloing, I would get the full 10xp, however in our group of 8 we were only getting ~1xp each per kill, and this was really dragging out our levelling progress. We also found that it was difficult for our healers to heal players who weren’t in their immediate group, as this was all before add-ons were a thing. More on that later.
We were no strangers to having to grind for xp; Dark Age of Camelot and SWG were evidence of that. However, we were now forced to split up and either level solo or in groups of two, and just followed each other around. The tagging of mobs then became an issue between groups, so we eventually split up into the various races starting zones so we could level up our xp at decent rates and agreed to meet up again once everyone was over level 10.
Aside from these early teething issues, the game was bloody awesome! Having come from the PvP heavy DAOC, we chose to play on a PvP server. This meant once you got past the first two zones, you then got into contested areas where you could attack and kill players from the opposing faction, and more importantly so could they. In zones such as Duskwood, Redridge Mountans and the Barrens, you had to watch your back because there could be a hidden rogue hiding behind any rock or tree. I loved this feeling which we called the ‘UO shakes’ (from Ultima Online), the anticipation of action every time you stepped out of the safe zones.
Tarren Mill and Stranglethorn Vale still have reputations as PvP hotspots due to convergence of both factions into smaller areas. There was a constant tug-of-war between the alliance and horde towns in Hillsbrad within Tarren Mill. To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of World of Warcraft, Blizzard added a temporary battleground called Southshore vs Tarren Mill that was very nostalgic of these times. Stranglethorn Vale however has smaller scale but more brutal action due to the dense nature of the terrain making it hard to see enemies coming and many types of stealth npcs such as tigers, panthers, and pirates!
Whilst this open-pvp was initially fun and exciting, it quickly however turned into griefing with alot of players. They would kill you (fair enough), and when you die your ghost would resurrect at the nearest cemetery where you’d have to run back as a ghost and resurrect near your corpse. The griefer would be stealthed and would then kill you once you resurrected. Other times, the real nasty players would wait until you start fighting monsters and kill you when you have low health. This was exacerbated by the level and gear difference where one higher level player could easily kill any number of lower level players, especially if they had decent area of effect (AoE) skills/spells. There was no risk and no reward to this kind of PvP.
This quickly became a major annoyance, in particular near quest npcs, as they knew you needed to be there, or at the entrances to dungeons where, with no dungeon finder back then, we literally had to run and wait for all five in the group to run there so we could enter as a group. You basically either had to call as many of your friends as you could to help defend you and kill the enemy, or as often was the case, you had to abandon what you were doing and hunt elsewhere, and this really started killing the fun for us. It was entirely our choice to play on the PvP server, but there was no penalty for players griefing us like this.
Ultimately it forced us to either grin and bear it or roll new characters on PvE servers where PvP was limited to battlegrounds, designated PvP areas or consentual duels. Players that did so were termed ‘carebears’ and this derogatory attitude led to a bit of a hostile attitude between players of the two different server types at times. There were the occasional mature players that knew when to pick their fights and when to let players do their thing, such as this kind fellow.
Battlegrounds (BGs) were a cool feature added to the game in June 2005, with the first two BGs being Warsong Gulch and Alterac Valley. Battlegrounds are different in World of Warcraft compared to DAoC in that they were instanced areas for a limited number of players. Warsong Gulch is a 10 vs 10 capture-the-flag battleground with the first faction to capture three flags being the victors. It was pretty fun and you could enter this battleground from level 10. Each kill earned you XP and Honor Points, therefore like in DAoC you could level up purely from PvP if you wanted to. This BG was offered in brackets of 10 levels so that players didn’t become too powerful.
Alterac Valley was a different battleground experience. Given the size of the playing area as well as having 40 players per faction able to enter the battlefield, this experience was more like playing in a full pvp zone and reminded me of our epic DAoC battles. Players fought a large-scale battle where each side attempts to destroy each other’s tower fortifications and slay the enemy General (Vanndar Stormpike for the Alliance or Drek’Thar for the Horde). These battles tended to last a long time, with neither side wanting to concede defeat. Quest items could be looted such as blood, ears and other body parts which are then turned in to eventually summon elementals to attempt to tip the battle scales in your favour.
Speaking with one of my long-term MMORPG mates Yonan, he recalls one such game of Alterac Valley lasting for 17 hours and 34 minutes. He said he played in it for 8 hours before going to bed that night. Another friend woke up early to check on it and the game was still going! I shit you not! I wouldn’t have believed it, until he sent me a screenshot of the final score tally below.
There were a couple of things that contributed to these long strung-out battles. There was no resource mechanic tied to the BG, such as capturing flags or killing ‘x’ number of the enemy faction – the only win victory was the death of a general. There were resource nodes spread through the valley such as ore nodes and fishing spots, so whilst the war waged on in one section of the map, old mate Rexhunt was having a nice serene fish in a pond! Players could also earn honor just by being in the BG. They didn’t have to do anything to earn it, it was just a time participation thing, therefore many players would enter the BG and go AFK. Back then, you could AFK forever without any recourse. After years of complaints, Blizzard finally added the ability to report AFKers and altered AV to be a much smaller battle, reducing the time taken to complete it.
As World of Warcraft’s first six expansions were added, so too were more BGs with a total of 12 available to play, leading into the seventh expansion Battle for Azeroth which released in August 2018. In the second part of this World of Warcraft feature article, and as we head towards its 14th anniversary this month, I will expand on these expansions with a PvE focus, explaining how difficult levelling up really was. I’ll also be looking into the impact of several other systems that WoW introduced, both voluntarily (add-ons) and involuntarily (gold farming), WoW’s incredible volume of subscription numbers over the years, introduction of the annual Blizzcon and how World of Warcraft has influenced general pop culture.
If you have great memories of playing World of Warcraft, I’d love to hear about them! Request to join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days.