How Much Has World of Warcraft REALLY Changed Since Release?

I try to get out, but they keep pulling me back in.

A few weeks ago, I did something I never expected I’d do – I renewed my World of Warcraft subscription. I’d originally started playing back towards the end of high school, and proceeded to play the game throughout much of my time in University. Somewhere around my third or fourth year, my interest simply tapered off, and I cancelled my subscription. Shortly afterwards, I moved on to different games. I thought World of Warcraft would basically end up forgotten. 

As it turns out, I was sorely mistaken.

I’m not quite sure what spurred me to start thinking about the game again. Perhaps it was the fact that my girlfriend and I recently started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, whose mechanics were reminiscent of WoW. Maybe it was the fact that my current library of games was beginning to bore me, and I was looking for a new way to pass the time. More likely, it was some combination of those factors – coupled with ads I’d been seeing floating around the ‘net – that saw me browsing the WoW wiki into the wee hours of the night one evening a few weeks ago.

I read up on some of the changes made with Cataclysm. I read up on a few of the new zones and instances introduced with Mists of Pandaria. I looked at a bit of the lore, and found that it wasn’t actually as bad as I’d expected. Certainly, the writing wouldn’t win any prizes, but it wasn’t the worst game narrative I’d seen. In spite of myself, I realized I was actually kind of interested in seeing what was new. 

Still, I waffled. It was a plunge I wasn’t entirely certain I was willing to take. How was I to tell if World of Warcraft could hold my attention? My prior stint with the game was ended not by some touching intervention or desperate realization of a deep addiction, but by simple boredom. What assurance had I that it wouldn’t be the same thing all over again? 

A party I attended a few weeks ago ended up being the final catalyst; the last piece that needed to click into place to get my playing again. While there, I found out that the friend who invited me – and indeed, most of the people at the event – were all involved in the game. Even better, they were still in the same guild. Were I to start playing again, there wouldn’t be a dearth of people to game with. Quite the contrary, I’d have a full guild of people I knew in person; an organization run by friends and acquaintances. With a bit of pushing from a friend I met that night (who I later learned was the guildmaster), I purchased Mists of Pandaria, and jumped back onto my old warrior after paying for a transfer. I figured I’d find my rhythm again soon enough. 

After all, how much could the game have changed in three years? 

The short answer is “a whole hell of a lot.” On the surface, of course, it’s still World of Warcraft. It’s still the most popular MMORPG in the world, a game that’s managed both to survive and thrive for nearly a full decade. There are differences, of course. Quests leading up to Cataclysm are easier. Faster and more streamlined. Enemies die with much greater alacrity, mobs which were formerly elite are no longer so formidable as they used to be. Where once there were complicated, branching talent trees for each class, now there’s simply different talents you can unlock at each level – and a glyphs system that allows you to power up certain class abilities (not unlike the Runes system in League of Legends). 

The focus for early game, it seems, is ushering players forward – moving them through the old content that they might experience the new.  

That isn’t to say there’s not a lot of new low-level content. There is. There’s tons. With Cataclysm, Blizzard quite literally changed the World of Warcraft (see what I did there? I’m so funny). I didn’t realize the full extent of these changes until I started exploring the lower level zones, endeavoring to level up my mining (since skinning was nowhere near as lucrative here as it had been on my old server). I remembered every single zone I visited, which drove home all the more how much they’d changed. 

I don’t think it really hit me until my journey took me to Thousand Needles. As I flew over the zone, the music changed to a sober, quieting string piece. I looked down at what was now a great, saltwater bay, still fondly remembering the time I’d spent wandering between the towering rocks of the canyon. It feels a little ridiculous to say this – I was playing a video game, after all – but the whole scene had a sort of surreal beauty to it. 

There’s no denying that World of Warcraft has changed – and I’d argue it’s done so for the better. I still remember pre Burning Crusade. I still remember when it took weeks – months, even – to get to level 60, which was at the time the max level. I remember complicated, branching talent trees rather than the simple, binary menus of today. I remember when raids required full teams of forty, and downing Onyxia was one of the greatest accomplishments a guild could ask for. I remember complicated, world-spanning attunement quests, and hours upon hours of grinding. 

The thing is, that was a different time. That was when we expected MMOs were supposed to be like that. World of Warcraft has evolved with the times. Were it still the same hardcore experience that it was on release, I guarantee it’d be bleeding subscribers at a breakneck rate. WOW is a vastly different game because it has to be in order to keep up. The deeper side is still there, of course, found in high-level raids and competitive PvP. But as a whole, the game has changed its stripes in order to appeal to a wider audience. And there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Also, Mists of Pandaria is actually pretty sweet – it’s nowhere near as ridiculous as I thought it’d be. Yeah, I know, I’m a bit late to the party on that one. But better late than never, right? At this point, I can’t say how much longer I’ll keep playing World of Warcraft. I’ve got all these pesky commitments that keep getting in the way. But for now, what I can say is that I’m happy to be back – and I’m going to give the game a go for at least a little while. 

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