I've been known to wax poetic about the good old days of vanilla World of Warcraft from time to time. I have lots of crazy good memories about the early days of the game -- exploring the world, playing through quests that are now long gone, raiding old content when it was current, that sort of thing. And I've followed the story of Warcraft along the way, delighting the various ways its changed and shifted over the years. It's no secret that I loved the early days of WoW -- heck, I've been playing this game for seven years now. Something's kept me sticking around, right?
Every now and again, I'll have a conversation with a friend that starts with said friend asking, "Hey, Anne! You like vanilla WoW. If they ever released a server that was just vanilla WoW with nothing else on it, would you play it?" And then there's a moment where I think about that. I think about the first day I was presented with the character selection screen, going over my choices with wide-eyed delight. I think about the night elf druid I made, and the months spent exploring this shiny new world. I think of my Forsaken priest and the hours of fun I had raiding with 39 other people.
And then I say to my friend, "No. Oh, no no no. Heck no."
The thing is, while I may wax poetic about vanilla, there are a ton of things about the game that have improved over the years in super-awesome ways. Here's just a sample of all of that awesome stuff you'd be missing and what you'd be experiencing instead if you were somehow stuck in a time warp playing the original iteration of WoW.
1. Running everywhere
If you are inexplicably playing vanilla WoW, one of the first things you'll notice is that you can't ride a mount until level 40. And I'm not talking the fast, epic mount -- I'm talking the slow one. If you'd like to buy a mount at level 40, it's going to set you back 100 gold -- 10 for the skill and 90 for the mount itself. If you'd like that really fast mount, you're going to have to wait until level 60 to get it, and it's going to set you back 1,000g -- this time, 100 gold for the skill and a whopping 900 gold for the mount. You'll get a teeny break for reputation, if you happen to have it.
In The Burning Crusade, the Apprentice Riding skill was changed so that players could learn it at level 30 rather than having to wait until level 40, and training costs were reduced. On top of that, we got the ability to have flying mounts as well. And in Wrath of the Lich King, prices were slashed even further, and so were levels. Suddenly, that slow mount could be had at level 20 and epic mounts at level 40, to the relief of character feet everywhere.
Speaking of mounts, I really hope you didn't intend on getting more than the few available for your race. If you were, well you're in for a treat involving endless amounts of grinding for Runecloth. Why? Because in order to get the mounts of other factions, you have to be exalted with those factions. Until patch 1.5, there was no realistic way to gain reputation with your fellow factional races. Patch 1.5 introduced the cloth donation repeatable quests that gave you tiny amounts of reputation in reward for multiple turn-ins of cloth.
In The Burning Crusade, quests suddenly began to give reputation for their various factions, making it much easier to get exalted status with the faction of your choice. In Wrath, the Argent Tournament provided an easy way for players to grind up reputation with those factions that they'd missed, through a series of repeatable dailies. In Cataclysm, you get to throw on a tabard and do dungeons for reputation, nice and simple.
And all that reputation? It will get you some thoroughly amazing stuff these days. Armor enhancements, pets, mounts, epic armor -- none of these cool rewards existed in vanilla. Most of the time, reputation rewards were patterns for resistance gear. Useful for raiders, not so much for anyone else. Reputation rocks these days, and the things you can get with it? They rock even harder.
3. Endgame choices
I hope you really like raiding or PvP! Why? Because in vanilla, that was pretty much the only thing to do once you'd reached level 60. There were no such things as daily quests. There were a limited number of dungeons to do at max level. Achievements? Those weren't introduced until Wrath. Raid choices were limited to Molten Core, Onyxia, Blackwing Lair, Ahn'Quiraj, or Naxxramas for 40-man content. PvP players took part in either Warsong Gulch, Alterac Valley, or Arathi Basin.
And if you weren't doing any of those things, well, there wasn't much for you to do, really. Compare that to these days when there are a wealth of max-level dungeons, heroic difficulty dungeons on top of that, plenty of raids to experience in both 10- and 25-man content, cross-realm dungeons, cross-realm raiding, achievements, daily quests ... the list goes on and on. There is an absolute glut of things that a max-level character can do -- and there's about to be plenty more in Mists, including the introduction of Pet Battles, which present a wholly new and entertaining possibility for max-level characters to keep themselves amused.
4. Eternally broke
I hope you weren't depending on having a lot of gold in vanilla WoW, because making gold is a painstaking process. Once you reached level cap, doing additional quests didn't give you gold to make up for the XP you didn't need. In fact, the only real way to make gold was to endlessly farm mobs in high-level areas, hoping for a rare blue or even rarer purple item to drop so you could sell it for a pittance on the Auction House. Alternatively, you could farm plants and ore for hours and hours and sell those on the Auction House. But even then, you weren't making a ton of gold because people simply didn't have a ton of gold to spend.
In The Burning Crusade, earning gold suddenly got a heck of a lot easier with the introduction of daily quests. And the amount of gold you obtained from quest rewards skyrocketed, too, as well as the vendor gold you got from selling items you couldn't use. It's only gotten easier since then. Think about it: In a single day's worth of daily quests today, you can easily make enough gold to spend that 90g on level 40 riding in vanilla -- something that used to take months and months to scrounge together.
5. Starting from scratch
Oh, I see you rolled an Alliance character, and now you want to play Horde. Or perhaps you're playing a gnome and you'd like to be a human instead. Sad news is that means you're going to have to start at level 1 and work your way back up again, bit by bit. In addition, players on PvP realms are even more restricted in choice. Until patch 3.2, PvP servers only allowed you to make characters on one faction, no exceptions.
In other words, in vanilla WoW you were pretty much stuck where you rolled, with few exceptions. You could change servers for a fee, but there was a six-month cooldown on transferring again. And you were stuck with the name you chose as well; paid name changes didn't come into play until The Burning Crusade.
Since then, Blizzard has made it essentially possible to switch whatever you'd like about your character at a moment's notice. You can swap names, factions, races, servers, even entire guilds, with a very short cooldown on the service. You no longer have to abandon a beloved character if it doesn't happen to be on the right side of the faction fence. This flexibility means that players aren't forced to re-roll mains; they can simply take them wherever they need to be.
Though vanilla WoW is often something that players look back on with fondness (myself wholly included), we tend to be peering through rose-colored glasses at what are really just amazing memories of friends and experiences. We don't look at how the game actually played; we look at how we felt when we were playing it, when every step was a brand new adventure in a three-dimensional Azeroth.
But despite those many, many fond memories, vanilla World of Warcraft was far less convenient and far more difficult to actually play. We played it because we enjoyed it -- and we enjoyed it because we didn't know there were better ways of doing the things we took for granted. Each expansion since has taken those rough edges of vanilla and polished them into something that is far more cohesive and brilliant that the expansion before.
The Burning Crusade allowed us to spread our wings and fly. Wrath allowed us to experience content from anywhere, regardless of server. Cataclysm allowed us to take flight in Azeroth for the first time and experience raid content on our own terms and with the people we want to experience it with, regardless of realm. What will we see in Mists? I don't know the extent of it -- but judging from the track record, it's apt to be groundbreaking. It's open warfare between Alliance and Horde in Mists of Pandaria, World of Warcraft's next expansion. Jump into five new levels with new talents and class mechanics, try the new monk class, and create a pandaren character to ally with either Horde or Alliance. Look for expansion basics in our Mists FAQ, or dig into our spring press event coverage for more details!