This week, Blizzard’s PTR for WoW Classic made two huge shifts that have players talking.
The first one is easy enough – in the PTR build of a patch 1.14, Blizzard has updated the engine underpinning Classic again, moving it up to Shadowlands code, with support for DirectX 12 and real-time raytracing. Given that WoW’s implementation of raytracing is…very underwhelming even with modern models and geometric detail, I don’t know that it will make a huge difference in Classic, assuming it even gets rolled out at all.
But, you might notice, eagle-eyed among you, that the version number is 1.14. Isn’t that Vanilla?
Yes, it sure is.
The other big move this week with PTR is that the very same Classic PTR was briefly playable, and in it, there was a sort-of curious state of things. It was Vanilla Classic, but not Phase 6 (the end of Vanilla). It was instead somewhere closer to the beginning – and the implications of that are fascinating.
With Holly Longdale leading the Classic charge for WoW now, with her history on Everquest and the throwback servers on that game, there is reason to be excited about this news. For those new to the Classic game or who haven’t read the excellent writeups from folks like Wilhelm Arcturus or Bhagpuss, one of the ways EQ’s classic server game really set itself apart and built up fan interest was to run event servers or fresh rulesets. You can play with experience rates tuned all over the place, with different loot rules, with a pacing of new content coming into the game that is faster or slower than others, and more. Basically, instead of what Blizzard did with Classic for WoW (large number of servers, all the same rulesets), Daybreak does a huge split of Progression servers with a bunch of different rulesets so that everyone can find their flavor. That makes playing EQ classic much more of an interesting proposition – you’re not just re-running the same content over and over or trying to experience every angle, but sometimes, you can just go on a Fast XP rate official server and smash through levels, or a Random loot ruleset where loot drops are randomized across rares and raids to make things interesting.
So what could this mean for WoW Classic?
Well, a fresh Vanilla server is a good start, because it cuts to the true value of the experience – that initial rush, everyone together running through the same zones and content. It also brings attention back to Vanilla, which is wise considering that Blizzard’s split model for servers and the popularity of Classic has left a fair number of Vanilla Classic servers no longer able to field the numbers for some endgame activities with ease. A new fresh-start server ruleset could let players push through that leveling experience again with players alongside them, get to endgame, and then push the existing content with timed windows on phases similar to how EQ Progression servers handle expansion rollouts, so that everyone gets a window with MC/Onyxia, BWL, AQ, and finally Naxxramas. You could even then tie in a Fresh server to progress to TBC Classic at a fixed timer, opening up content and rolling out phases in a similar structure there.
But for my part today, I want to speculate a little bit about what I think could be some fun rulesets, to cast aside what WoW does or even what EQ Progression does and just speculate wildly.
Ironman Ruleset: The ironman challenge was once one of those really fun little things you could do if you were bored with WoW. White-quality gear max, no professions, no talents, no consumables, die and you’re done. Depending on how strict you want to be, there are other facets to it, but as a baseline, this would be a fun ruleset for a server – you could then either adjust gear rewards from questing to make them Normal, no stats, or simply have the game disallow equipping them. If all these rules are too restrictive, you could instead do…
Hardcore Ruleset: Just like Diablo – die once, that’s it. No fluff around it, just that.
Boosted Experience Rates: One of the draws of private servers is experience multipliers and other boosts to progression speed. A Vanilla content set server but with TBC experience requirements for leveling would be one way to go, or you could simply throw a multiplier onto XP rewards. The whole point is simply giving people means to race to endgame or to see how fast they can level, for fun!
“Azeroth’s Got Talent” Rules: Okay, I used the cheesy name, but one thing that I think would be fun on a classic server for WoW specifically is to set an XP curve past level 60, where each “level” is not a level, but instead an additional talent point rewarded on top of what you get going 1-60, such that eventually, you could have every talent point in your trees. The curve past 60 could be continued scaling along the base experience requirements, or it could be reduced – maybe 10,000 or 100,000 XP rewards a point, and then you’d just want to tune endgame content to reward XP in a logical way to that. Combine this with a boosted XP rate rule, and oh my, could be fun as people race to be able to fill all their talents up!
Loot Randomizer: Imagine getting Tier 3 drops in MC, or a Binding of Thunderaan in AQ. You could level-scale pieces by Phase and then just put the whole endgame pool of loot in it, or do phase-control and add loot by phase to the larger pool as content rolls out. You could even add Titanforging! Okay, now that I’ve made every Classic player’s eyes red with fury, I’m joking…mostly. RNG isn’t necessarily fun, but as part of a ruleset you could opt into, it might be fun.
Conquest Rules: Imagine if you could covert zones to your faction through gameplay via World PvP, and then just talk to the quest givers in that zone and do quests for them? If you’re explicitly building rules that are meant for players to engage temporarily and have fun, then something like this works – start everyone out fresh, make them level, the base map is the initial state of play, but then as players start to level up and move through zones and content – bring them into conflict and make them fight to hold zones. Maybe it would need a factional balance cap on population or something, but I think you could make this interesting.
Level Scaling Content: Dare I even say it? I think I will! Why not have level-scaled content – we know Blizzard can do it technically, and it would be an interesting way to change things up in Classic a bit, especially if offered as a ruleset you can opt into.
Do I think Blizzard will go fully into custom ruleset servers and things like EQ Progression? Honestly…a little bit, yeah. With Holly Longdale on the team, it makes sense to leverage her expertise on what kind of things like this work or don’t, and the Classic experience only maintains its luster with players around to bounce off of each other. I think the best way to keep older Classic content relevant isn’t to just spin up brand new servers and have people run through again exactly the same, but to add little tweaks and to have multiple different types of experience available for whatever people want to play. While some of my ideas above are joking in nature (I do think some folks would be very unhappy with a level scaling ruleset, for example), at the same time, if you can choose the ruleset you want, it only makes sense to have those options, and you never know who out there might find that the exact flavor they want.
In fact, I think that Classic rulesets could be very much an experimental experience. Test different rulesets, let players vote on them and choose what they want to see next, or even have a “community choice” server with 1-3 unique rules on it based on a fan vote, and rotate a new one in yearly or on some sort of set frequency. Maybe have a contest for fans to create rulesets! There’s a lot of viable options and Classic has the leeway to allow for something like that.
Either way, the idea that Blizzard is experimenting with Classic rules, albeit slowly, is still good news, I think – and I can’t wait to see how far they take it.