The launch of WoW was a magical time -- everyone who played the game back then would agree. The concept of questing rather than grinding was fresh and exciting. The world felt immense, full of secrets and adventures.
Classes, on the other hand, were very raw compared to today. While many players yearn to play on vanilla-only servers, I doubt that most of those players would prefer their class to return to its vanilla version. Though some were better than others, every class had its problems. In this column, I'd like to highlight the biggest aggravation, as I see it, with each of the original eight classes -- and how Blizzard has since fixed every one of those issues.
Priests: Class racials
At launch, priests had some strange issues, such as Inner Fire providing attack power -- a holdover from when the Discipline tree was planned to be a melee spec like today's Windwalker monk. But vanilla priests faced no bigger aggravation than their class-specific racial abilities.
In vanilla, five races could be priests: night elves, humans, dwarves, undead, and trolls. Each provided a priest with two race-specific spells. If the abilities had been similar, with slight variations, they might have been a welcome and flavorful addition to the class. This was not the case. The racial abilities were wildly different in both utility and power.
Humans were generally considered to be the worst race for a vanilla-era priest. They had a self-heal on a 10-minute cooldown (the original Desperate Prayer) and Feedback, which granted a short-term buff that burned mana from any caster who hit the priest with a spell.
Dwarf priests were on the other end of the spectrum. They were the only priests with Fear Ward. Fear Ward was incredible in both PvP and PvE. Vanilla bosses loved to fear tanks, which could be devastating if not handled properly. A few dwarf priests in the raid could completely nullify that mechanic. A dwarf priest was an auto-invite for most raiding guilds, regardless of the player's gear, skill, or attitude. Fear Ward was so powerful that it became the first priest racial to become trainable by all priests, in patch 2.3.
For priests, the choice of race became paramount, and it was a choice that new players didn't know mattered when they created a character. To compound the problem, Blizzard hadn't yet offered a race change service, so race was a permanent decision. Plenty of priests reached max level, started raiding, and then felt compelled to create new characters of the "correct" race when they figured out that the racial abilities had such a big impact on their contribution to the team. The racials also became a point of contention for Horde players, who had no access to Fear Ward at all.
Blizzard carried this idea into The Burning Crusade. Blood elf and draenei priests both received two racial spells (although one of the blood elf skills was shared by undead). Ultimately the idea was abandoned in Wrath of the Lich King and most priest racials disapppeared from the game. Devouring Plague, Hymn of Hope, and Desperate Prayer survived and became available to all priests. Chastise later made a return as Holy Word: Chastise in Cataclysm.
Hunters: Mana (and the lack of it)
In vanilla, no one would have been surprised to learn that Blizzard designed hunters last. They had a mishmash of ranged and melee abilities, since Blizzard couldn't quite decide whether they wanted melee hunters to be a thing. The Survival tree retained remnants of the melee hunter concept and was quite a mess at launch. The 8-yard "dead zone" that prevented using a ranged weapon against melee-range enemies was another remnant of the melee design -- and endured for quite a long time. The stacks and stacks of consumable ammo to lug around lasted even longer. The pet feeding/happiness mechanic was cute but kind of a drag. My vote for the biggest problem with the vanilla hunter class as a whole, however, was mana.
Mana made very little sense for the hunter class thematically or mechanically. Aside from Arcane Shot, hunter abilities were not particularly magical in flavor. Even in Azeroth, your ability to fire a bow or a gun has nothing to do with harnessing magical energy: both warriors and rogues managed to use these weapons just fine without a blue bar. The argument of course was that hunters did special things with these weapons that set them apart, things that required mana to pull off. But it just never felt right. And it led to bizarre itemization at times, such as the hunter set from the Temple of Ahn'Qiraj which originally included bonus spell power.
The class hadn't been designed for a mana system. Believe it or not, the Focus system that Blizzard eventually implemented in Cataclysm was an evolved form of what the class had in beta. Beta testing proved that the system was too powerful compared to other classes, and with a lack of better last-minute options, Blizzard opted to staple on the preexisting mana system.
Much to hunters' chagrin, the mana system persisted into Wrath. Finally, with the Shattering in patch 4.0.1, hunters switched over to the Focus system and became the class that Blizzard originally conceived.
Warlocks: Shard farming
Warlocks, as a class that was always meant to have mana and had a clear role in combat, fared better in vanilla than hunters. Warlocks dodged some bullets: beta's 30-minute cooldown on Banish, for example, never made it to the live game.
Soul Shards were by far the worst aspect of vanilla warlocks. Shards were necessary for just about everything: summoning demon pets, creating Soulstones and Healthstones, and summoning players. Soulstones actually required two shards until patch 1.2 (although the 30-minute cooldown reduced the amount it could be cast). Each one had to be earned by killing a mob (or, after with patch 1.5, a player of adequate level) with the original Drain Soul spell.
Soul Shards weren't just a time problem -- they were constantly a bag space problem, too. They didn't stack, even though you needed a ton of them for raiding. Early warlocks spent hours farming Soul Shards in order to prepare for raids throughout vanilla. Then, when they arrived at the raid, they were asked to summon . . . everybody else. Unlike today's handy closets, warlocks back then could only summon one player at a time, at the cost of one shard per player. All that time farming, in other words, translated into saving everyone else time riding to the raid instance. Then you had to pray you could replenish your supply with trash mobs. During breaks, many warlocks were forced to leave the instance and farm shards rather than grabbing a snack. It was a giant hassle.
Blizzard somewhat alleviated the bag space problem by adding progressively larger Soul Bags to the game -- up to 32 slots in Wrath. The fundamental mechanic, however, persisted until Cataclysm, when shards became a UI element -- the mechanic for Affliction warlocks. Soul shards as farmable items are a thing of the past, and warlocks everywhere couldn't be happier.
Many players would probably say totems were the biggest aggravation of the vanilla shaman experience, and perhaps they're right. After all, totems were not exactly fire-and-forget. They had to be placed one at a time on the GCD. Buff totems lasted one minute and only affected your party, not the whole raid. They were expensive to cast. Unlike paladin blessings, they could be destroyed by damage and frequently were. Utility totems such as Earthbind negated buff totems like Strength of Earth, which then had to be replaced once the utility totem ran its course. No UI element showed you how many totems you had placed or of which element. You had to eyeball them (or your buffs), which was not easy during a frantic fight.
Despite these aggravations, however, many shamans loved and still love the totem concept, their correspondence to the elements, the memorable class quests that earned you different totem types -- Blizzard did a lot of things right in this regard. Totems have evolved to become far more user friendly, but their essential design is unchanged. You put them on the ground. They don't move. They can be killed. But if you stay near them they help you win.
The biggest aggravation of vanilla shamans, at least in my opinion, was tied to a single talent: Two-Handed Axes and Maces. At its heart, the talent was a good idea: Enhancement shamans, if they chose, could spec for the ability to use two-handed melee weapons. It was a flavorful and popular talent. A shaman using the Windfury buff and the slow-swinging (which meant harder-hitting) Arcanite Reaper could tear up enemies in both dungeons and battlegrounds. Even Resto shamans (and in vanilla, every raiding shaman was a Resto shaman) liked to let loose with a Reaper now and then.
So what was the problem? Well, vanilla WoW had weapon skills, a numerical value that represented a character's ability to wield a weapon. To be able to use a weapon effectively, you needed to level up the skill by swinging the weapon. When you reset your talents, your character lost the Two-Handed Axes and Two-Handed Maces skills. When you relearned the talent, the game treated the skills as if you had just acquired them from a trainer. They were once again level 1 skills.
Take a moment to let that sink in. Every time you respec'd, you had to relevel both skills from 1 to 300. Even if you planned to keep the Two-Handed talent, even if you just wanted to tweak a point or two in the Enhancement tree, your skills would reset.
Imagine you're a fresh level 60 shaman who has leveled as Enhancement with maxed-out axe and mace skills. You want to try your hand at healing some endgame dungeons, so you switch specs. Then you want to knock out some quests, so you switch back. Everything seems fine until you attack a level 60 mob. You miss, over and over again, and your chat log fills up with messages like "Your skill in Two-Handed Axes has increased to 2."
No other class had a talent like this, so no other class faced this problem. Blizzard wasn't able to fix it until deep into vanilla, when patch 1.11 allowed your character to retain the leveled skills. Of course, weapon skills were later removed from the game entirely in Cataclysm.
In the next WoW Archivist, I will cover the biggest aggravations of vanilla's mages, warriors, druids, rogues, and paladins!
After months of surveying, WoW Archivist has been dug back up! Discover lore and artifacts of WoW's past, including the Corrupted Blood plague, the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, and the mysterious Emerald Dream.