WoW Archivist: The crashin' thrashin' history of Winter Veil

Scott Andrews
S. Andrews|12.20.13

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WoW Archivist: The crashin' thrashin' history of Winter Veil
Greatfather Winter with goblin helper
WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? Who is etched into WoW's history? What secrets does the game still hold?

This month we celebrate the tenth annual Feast of Winter Veil. The holiday is almost as old as WoW itself. Winter Veil was the first ever holiday to be implemented, just after the game launched in November 2004. Blizzard patched in Winter Veil along with the Maraudon dungeon, the option to turn off cloaks and helms, and many other changes in patch 1.2 on December 18.

Since then, Winter Veil has enjoyed a long evolution over the years into today's version. Let's spend a few minutes with the Ghost of Winter Veil Past!

The first Winter Veil

Given how early this holiday was added to the game, it's not surprising that there wasn't much to it compared to today. The holiday came with a few quests, including the original, short Greench questline. The first few days of the holiday saw a swarm of activity in Hillsbrad. The Tarren Mill vs. Southshore battles moved a few leagues north, as players battled friend and foe alike to tag the Greench and get quest credit. Completing the questline awarded you with one of several crafting recipes, such as Gloves of the Greatfather, the Winter's Might enchantment, or the coveted Snowmaster 9000 schematic.

The event also added vendors with a few holiday-themed items and recipes for cookies and egg nog. Of course, the cities were decorated for the holiday, and Greatfather Winter made an appearance.

However, the traditional "present quests" weren't part of the holiday yet.
Stormwind decorated
WoW's deadliest snowball fights

Snowballs. Believe it or not, Snowballs made the biggest impression on WoW from that first Winter Veil.

For one thing, Snowballs were the bane of casters everywhere. Today they are, of course, harmless. They just produce an animation. In 2004, however, snowballs had a knockback effect on your party members. This was quite awesome and way better for actual snowball fights. Putting your buddy on his ass with a hunk of ice out of nowhere induced a certain sadistic satisfaction.

The problem was that snowballs could be used anywhere, and this was an era where casters had to drink, sometimes as often as every pull or so in a raid or a dungeon. The first time someone knocked you out of your quiet drinking moment to regen mana, it was kind of annoying but also kind of funny. The tenth time? Still annoying. Not funny.

Players found other creative uses for snowballs, like interrupting someone right before the end of their resurrection cast or their hearthstone cast.

Once the Alterac Valley battleground opened for business, players soon learned that snowballs could knock their raidmates off the bridge -- sometimes to their death when they took falling damage. Blizzard finally hotfix-nerfed the basic Snowball in 2006 to remove the knockback effect.

In the meantime, a new item called Hardpacked Snowball had been added to the game for Winter Veil 2005. These snowballs can still be looted from Hardpacked Snowdrifts in Alterac Valley. Originally, these items packed a real punch. The knockback effect was far more dramatic than a regular Snowball. Combined with the fact that you could also use them on enemies, a well-timed Hardpacked volley could stop an army of Horde players from crossing the bridge. I've also heard tales about players literally blasting someone out of AV by knocking them into the zone portal, but I can't confirm if that ever happened.

The Hardpacked Snowballs were also nerfed.
Phoenix and Winter Veil tree
Now with 100% more hats

2005's Winter Veil came with a number of surprises. Certain dungeon and raid bosses had new holiday versions wearing winter hats, and they had a chance to drop wearable versions as loot.

Players could become transformed, too, by walking into the new PX-238 Winter Wondervolt.

2005 also introduced Mistletoe and Fresh Holly, which could be obtained by /kissing Winter Reveler NPCs.

This Winter Veil gave us the first "present quests," found under the tree during the last week of the holiday. The original presents contained food and several different pets. Back then, these pets required a Snowball to summon, to limit their use outside of the event. Today, they can be summoned anytime, but when you attempt to do so out of season, a unique animation occurs.


In 2007 Blizzard tried a few new things that didn't work out as well as they had hoped.

During this holiday, Greatfather Winter mailed new recipes to players. These recipes included the infamously skimpy (on female models anyway) Winter Clothes pattern. However, the Greatfather's list of who was naughty and unworthy of a recipe included a large portion of the player base, who didn't receive anything at all. Blizzard eventually had to make the recipes available via vendors.

The Winter Clothes recipes weren't just controversial for their revealing design. A bug with the recipes allowed tailors to level up their profession at a rapid pace all the way to max level, even though the recipes were gray. Blizzard had to hotfix the problem.

2007 was the first year to feature a new and unique present under the tree that -- in the past at least -- could only be obtained that year. The first was the Clockwork Rocket Bot pet.

Also in 2007, courtesy of The Burning Crusade's new flying mount skill, our reindeer could finally fly!
Gnome helpers on reindeer
Making merry

When Wrath of the Lich King introduced the achievement system in 2008, all holidays received achievements and meta-achievements. Winter Veil, of course, was no exception. The achievements included snowman-on-snowman dancing, flaking different race/class combos, and completing a bombing run quest in Blade's Edge while riding a reindeer. Completing Winter Veil's meta earns you the title Merrymaker.

Every holiday has its annoying achievements. Although Winter Veil is one of the least offensive, With a Little Helper from My Friends remains very frustrating for druids, who can't fight in forms while under a transformation effect. For nonhealers, piloting a Wintergrasp vehicle (or those in battlegrounds) was the easiest way to do it.

Players also complained about the big difference in the faction versions of Bros. Before Ho Ho Ho's. The Horde version requires Mistletoe'ing three NPCs, while the Alliance version requires eight.

Regardless, the achievements brought a new reason to participate in holiday events and breathed new life into Winter Veil.
The new Greench
Extreme makeover: Greench edition

In 2011, the Greench became the official holiday boss, in the same tradition as the Headless Horseman and Coren Direbrew. He could now be killed once a day for a chance at loot from Stolen Present.

In the process, Blizzard changed the model of the Greench from the vanilla yeti to the snazzier, Wrath-era yeti model. They also added some holiday flair, including stolen presents dangling from his horns.

Stolen Present has a chance to contain most of the old one-time Winter Veil gifts like the Clockwork Rocket Bot. Other notable possibilities include the Toy Train Set and Wind-up Train Wrecker, along with the Lump of Coal pet. The lone epic item is the Miniature Winter Veil Tree dagger, which indeed resembles a holiday tree and is updated for each expansion.

The Greench's big deviation from the typical holiday boss formula, however, was that you could not queue for him like you could for all the others. Instead, you had to form the group on your own and journey to Alterac the hard way. Here on WoW Insider, players debated whether this was a nod to the spirit of fellowship that the holidays are supposed to engender, or whether it was just an unnecessary hassle. At least now you don't have to fight over the tag. In fact, if he's dead you can just rescue Metzen and be on your way.
Goblin with Red Rider rifle
Greatfather's gifts

2007: Clockwork Rocket Bot. Now a fully functional battle pet, the rocket bot may have inspired the mini game. It was originally just a companion pet who would fight other nearby rocket bots by -- what else -- firing rockets.

2008: Crashin' Thrashin' Racer Controller. This gift was similar to the Steam Tonk Controller, but only had one ability: to crash into other racers. Crashing 25 times earns you the achievement Crashin' & Thrashin'.

2009: Red Rider Air Rifle. This gift was an homage to the movie A Christmas Story, in which the main character desperately wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. When used, the air rifle deals a small amount of damage to enemies. Shooting the opposing factions leaders earns you the BB King achievement.

2010: MiniZep Controller. Like the Tonks, you can use this toy to duel. MiniZeps have three abilities: shooting cannons, dropping mines, and zooming forward with a speed boost. Blizzard later used the same model for the Darkmoon Zeppelin battle pet.

2011: Gaudy Winter Veil Sweater. This sweater lived up to its promise of gaudiness. On use, it also caused your character to sing a holiday song. Doing so in each enemy faction's city earns you the A-Caroling We Will Go achievement. Afterward, you could "return" the sweater to Smokywood Pastures for Scrooge's Payoff, a bag containing 5 gold.

2012: Foot Ball and The Pigskin. These gifts seem to exist primarily so Blizzard could create a feat of strength called They're Both Footballs?. Using either creates an animation where you kick or throw the ball to another player. Interestingly enough, doing so interrupts eating and drinking. Was this an intentional callback to the old Snowball days?

2013: Crashin' Thrashin' Flyer Controller. We haven't seen one in action yet, but based on the related achievement, the flyer seems like it will be more like the minizep than the racer.
Chen as Greatfather Winter
The legacy of Winter Veil

Though Blizzard went on to design many more in-game holidays, Winter Veil will always be the very first. Its impact on WoW has echoed through the last nine years.

The popularity of that first Winter Veil likely had a lot to do with Blizzard's decision to devote more development time to future holiday events. Word of mouth about the Greench battles and the snowball wars certainly contributed to the game's avalanche of new accounts in 2005 and 2006.

Many a fortune has been made selling Runecloth, Small Eggs, and even the vendor-purchased Ice Cold Milk on the auction house -- with a generous holiday markup.

Although the gift items are amusing, carrying them around has always been burdensome. With the addition of the "toy box" in Warlords of Draenor, we won't need to waste bag space on such items. That means Blizzard could really go all-out in future Winter Veils -- as long as we're all nice little boys and girls.
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.
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