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WoW Archivist: Launch classes' 9 biggest aggravations, part 2

Scott Andrews

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?

Vanilla WoW is properly considered the golden age of this beloved MMO. The evolutionary ideas behind the game were exciting, the art style was fresh, and the world was full of mysteries. Some yearn for a return to that time. But many forget that classes at launch suffered from some truly aggravating designs. Last time on Archivist, we looked at priest racials, hunter mana, warlock shard farming, and shaman weapon skill resets. This week, we review the most aggravating aspects of warriors, mages, druids, rogues, and paladins.

Warriors: The leather conundrum

Let's be fair: warriors, for the most part, had it pretty good in vanilla. Back then, they were the only class that could viably tank and their DPS was better than most hybrids. Rage had its share of problems early on, it's true, but the mechanic worked -- warriors just needed more of it. Stance dancing was annoying to some but the mark of a pro to others. Warriors also had a crippling bug at launch that would register all enemy dodges and parries as misses, preventing skills like Overpower from ever proc'ing. The bug made early leveling painful, but it was solved a few months after launch.

The biggest aggravation for warriors throughout vanilla -- and beyond -- was leather.

Leather had a strange itemization in vanilla. The problem at its core was that agility was too good. Agility granted dodge, armor, and crit, in addition to attack power for agility-based classes. To balance that out, Blizzard removed some agility and added pure attack power, which provided raw DPS but didn't come with all of agility's extra perks. The separate agility and attack power bonuses meant that agility items had one more stat than plate gear. In the vanilla itemization system, diversifying an item's stats allowed an item to have more total DPS stats on it, because fewer points would be allocated to stamina. Stamina was also heavily favored on plate items, because Blizzard wanted them to have a "tougher" overall feel.

So, amazingly enough, agility leather had better DPS stats for warriors than strength plate.

Leather armor from vanillaPlayers figured this out early on. For DPS warriors, leather was the way to go. The agility gave you crit and the AP gave you damage. Any crit or hit on the item helped just as it would from plate, and you got a little more of it. Even agility weapons and rings were preferred, for the same reasons. (Mail also had some great items for warriors, like the Crown of Destruction, but even mail with agility often included other stats that were useless to a warrior like intelligence, spirit, or spell power.)

Many plate items were sharded over the years because they simply could not compete. Remarkably, this held true all the way through the Wrath of the Lich King era. The Black Temple's Cursed Vision of Sargeras, for example, was the envy of every warrior, and not just because you could look like Illidan.

The way agility leather was itemized meant that warriors, rogues, feral druids, hunters, enhancement shamans, and to a lesser extent ret pallies and DPS death knights all had an interest in it. Of the strength-based specs, leather gear worked best for warriors, however. In fact, it worked too well. Many warriors were reluctant to take gear from leather-only classes and would wear plate even though it meant dealing less damage. Some warriors just hated to run around looking like rogues. Meanwhile, rogues and feral druids resented the warriors who prioritized leather over plate. Players on both sides of the leather problem felt punished by this lopsided itemization.

In patch 3.1, Blizzard changed Improved Berserker Stance to give a bonus based on strength rather than attack power, but that only fixed Fury's itemization. Agility items were still better for Arms warriors.

Blizzard's solution to this problem was twofold. First, they got rid of attack power as a stat in Cataclysm and allowed physical classes to get their AP solely from agility or strength. That evened out the issue of extra stats. Second, they added Armor Specialization bonuses. The bonuses give a 5% increase in primary stats if you wear the armor that your class is supposed to wear. This change was actually quite huge. Prior to these bonuses, nearly every class that wore leather, mail, or plate would mix and match armor types to get the best stats possible. Now it's far from optimal to do that. Armor Specialization was a good change for the game -- and for DPS warriors in particular.

Rogues: Mind-numbing poisons

Like warriors, rogues also fared well in vanilla. Their damage was good and their energy, unlike hunter's mana, was infinite. They could even Vanish if they had to drop threat, so they didn't have to worry about being threat-capped like most other DPS did. But rogues were not immune to vanilla design problems.

It's a toss-up here between lockpicking and poisons, but I have to go with poisons. Lockpicking was mainly a class perk. If you never leveled it, your DPS wouldn't suffer. Poisons were an integral part of the class, however, in both PvE and PvP. You simply couldn't be an effective rogue without them.
Empty poison vial
Despite the cool quests to obtain them, poisons were a headache. Poisons only lasted half an hour in vanilla. Also, they disappeared if you zoned. If you rode a ship or zeppelin, or entered a dungeon, or died in a dungeon and released, you had to reapply poisons. Because poisons were crafted items, you didn't have an infinite supply.

Yes, just like lockpicking, poisons constituted their own profession, which meant you had to grind up your poison making skill. Just like any other crafting skill, this process was not particularly interesting. While the profession was appropriate from a roleplaying point of view, it was a hassle that no other class had to endure just to acquire class mechanics.

Poisons also didn't scale with attack power. They gave you a flat bonus based on the rank of the poison created. You could only apply one at a time, so if your raid needed you to use Mind-Numbing Poison, you had to sacrifice your DPS to do it.

Blizzard improved the poison mechanic over the years. They fixed the zoning problem in patch 1.11. In patch 2.3 the duration was increased to one hour. The profession got the axe in Wrath of the Lich King and all poisons became purchasable from vendors. At the same time, Blizzard allowed poisons to scale with attack power. In Mists, they finally did away with poison reagents entirely and just made them spells.

Mages: Spec immunity

RagnarosPeople who didn't play mages in vanilla might cite their status as Azeroth's vending machines as the most aggravating part of the class. Certainly the lack of mage tables made life a hassle. You had to chain-cast the water spell and then individually trade the stacks of water to other players. Mage water isn't such a big deal these days, but in vanilla healers would sometimes have to drink between every pull. That got costly without a mage around.

However, nothing comes close to the aggravation that a Fire mage experienced upon first zoning in to Molten Core. Yes, the premier raid of vanilla focused on enemies made of fire, and they could not be hurt by fire. It's logical, but from a gameplay standpoint it was a molten middle finger. Your biggest trinket-powered fireball crit wouldn't scratch Ragnaros. He'd laugh it off as IMMUNE scrolled over his head in big yellow letters.

Immunities were actually quite common in vanilla. Frost enemies could not be Frost Shocked. Ghosts couldn't bleed or be poisoned. These limitations are realistic -- no one can deny that. But they made some specs miserable. You could not run Molten Core, Onyxia, or Blackwing Lair optimally as a Fire mage. You could not face Azuregos as Arcane or Frost. Without Dual Specialization and the ability to swap on the fly, changing specs was a process rather than a button (and a rather expensive process, at that).

Many mages just chose a hybrid of two trees and said "good enough" -- but they still felt a bit put off that their spec was not determined by preference but merely by the backstory of the raid boss they were attacking. After all, no one who named their mage Pyroclastica wanted to raid with a Frost spec.

While it's true that many classes had completely unviable trees (more on that in a moment), no other class suffered from the immunity problem like mages did. Blizzard finally did away with the idea of spell-school immunities at the end of The Burning Crusade. They also added spells like Frostfire Bolt that chose the lesser resistance of the spell's dual schools to calculate its damage (although they no longer work like this as of Cataclysm).

Druids: Go tree or go home

Tree formBlizzard left most druid specs in the wilderness in vanilla. Tanking druids didn't have nearly the tools or the survivability of warriors. (It didn't help that they shared their talent tree with a melee spec.) Rogues outclassed cats at every turn. Melee DPS for ferals didn't even scale with your weapon's DPS until Wrath of the Lich King. Blizzard added a bandaid fix in the form of a "feral attack power" stat in patch 1.8. Only certain weapons had this stat, and all others were terrible for ferals.

Perhaps the most sad and neglected talent tree of all class specs at launch, however, was Balance. Balance didn't even have a form. Every other druid went into battle as a fierce tiger, a stout bear, or a gnarled treant. Balance druids went in as ... guys who cast Moonfire. Weakly. Moonkin Form was not a thing until patch 1.8 made it the 31-point talent for Balance -- and it didn't even warrant a specific mention in the patch notes.

If you wanted to raid in vanilla as a druid, you were Resto or you were out. To highlight the weakness of the other trees, Resto had Innervate. It was the 31-point Resto talent, and Innervate was incredibly important in vanilla PvE.

Granted, all hybrids except warriors were healers in vanilla. Druids were not alone in this regard. But no other class so strongly promised the ability to do so much more, to be whatever you wanted, as the druid did. The core of the class, after all, was shapeshifting. Vanilla players who rolled druids imagined a class that could shift from shape to shape in combat based on the situation. But if they wanted to run dungeons or raids, they spent most of their time at 60 as trees.

The eventual viability of non-Resto specs was an uphill battle. Bears and cats saw improvements throughout The Burning Crusade but were still second-class citizens until Wrath of the Lich King. That expansion finally tried to made all specs viable, but hybrids suffered from a "tax" on their DPS as a check on their extra utility. Cataclysm finally did away with the tax and put all specs on equal footing, at least in theory.

Paladins: The curse of blessings

That brings us to the final vanilla class, another versatile hybrid that spent all of vanilla WoW as a healer in raids. Unlike druids, however, paladins didn't get to do much actual healing. Paladins were in raids for one reason only: to bless.

Applying Blessings is so easy today that it causes physical pain for vanilla paladins to compare the two processes. You just pick your Blessing and it buffs the raid for an hour.
In vanilla, blessing players was an art. It was also a giant pain in the greaves. You see, the original Blessings lasted five minutes. That was not typically long enough for an entire boss fight. Not even close. Blessings could only be cast on one player at a time. In a 40-player raid, by the time you were done blessing everyone, you could cleanse a few debuffs before you had to go back to blessing everyone again. In fact, your gear rarely mattered, because blessing and cleansing doesn't scale.

You weren't off the hook if you had multiple paladins, either, because players could receive multiple Blessings -- one per paladin. That actually made things worse, to an extent, because now you had to plan who would give which Blessings to whom. This was true all the way through Wrath, and addons such as PallyPower were created just to manage Blessings among multiple paladins.
Blessing of Kings artwork
Also, Hand spells like Hand of Freedom used to be Blessings. That meant Hand spells overwrote whatever Blessing you had originally cast on the player.

The worst moment in a raid for a paladin was when you had blessed the whole raid before the pull, and then someone turned out to be AFK. Three minutes later they came back, and you had to rebless everyone all over again.

Thanks to Blizzard and the Light, those days are over. Like most of the aggravations on my list, the solutions came piecemeal over time. Greater Blessings were added in vanilla that could buff everyone of a given class. That was a huge improvement over the one-per-player system, but still had to be micromanaged. If you had Prot warriors and Fury warriors, they needed different Blessings and you were back to individual buffs. Cataclysm finally did away with these shenanigans and treated Blessings like any other raidwide buff.

As much as we all loved vanilla, no one wants to go back to these problems. The nine launch classes have come a long way since launch, and they are without exception tremendously improved, with much less aggravation and more fun. Blizzard deserves a lot of credit for all the hard work they've done to make each class and each spec as engaging and stress-free as possible. WoW would be a very different game otherwise!
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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