Fifteen years ago, playing World of Warcraft was a pretty momentous task for me. For the average player, understanding the game’s core mechanics and objectives is relatively simple, but for a five year old, vanilla WoW is one step below quantum mechanics.
Something as simple as getting from point A to point B could prove to be difficult, but it was those journeys across a zone that made the game feel so massive – and even more so through the eyes of a young child. When I first explored original Azeroth many years ago, my interest was not in raiding, grinding or speed-leveling, but in exploring what the world had to offer. I wanted to travel to every zone, every major city, and every instance.
It wasn’t about the experience bar, but the experience itself.
And now, as Classic WoW returns to the forefront of gaming 15 years after its release, those concepts of vastness, discovery, and expanse are just as alive and prominent in 2019 as it was in 2004.
The only difference? The very same adventurers who conquered the world in days past have aged, but are returning to a world that has remained completely stagnant. One that’s waited for them to come back. Landscapes that have been untouched entirely for a decade and a half are being looked upon with a fresh set of eyes – mine included.
But if any theme has carried over through all those years, it’s that sense of wonder that only WoW can deliver – a concept that almost every WoW player, especially myself, experience first upon clicking that famous ‘Enter World’ button. Some players pick up on it immediately, while it takes a few levels for others. In my case, I was hooked from the very beginning.
So when my Dad, an avid gamer of many years (and a total WoW freak), told me at breakfast one morning 15 years ago that he “would show me where the King of Stormwind lives”, my 5-year-old eyes lit up with excitement. I didn’t even know there was a King of Stormwind, and frankly, the Alliance capital was too big for my Kindergarten-sized brain to navigate, let alone comprehend.
I remember stocking up on food, water, and arrows for my intimidating journey from the Trade District to Stormwind Keep, and as my father and I set off, I couldn’t possibly understand how pivotal this five minute adventure would really be.
We made our way through a bustling city full of other players, traversed over cobblestone bridges, and narrowly avoided Sewer Beasts, but when we finally reached the front steps of the castle, that familiar feeling of discovery washed over me. The keep itself felt prestigious, regal, even magnificent. The majesty of the building was unlike anything I had ever seen – on Earth or on Azeroth. Even to this day, no building that I’ve seen in person (or in a video game) has knocked me off my feet as hard as Stormwind Keep did all those years ago.
And while the castle was beautiful and expansive, breathtaking and massive, the king was not.
In the middle of the throne room stood a boy, no taller than four feet, draped with blonde hair and a fair complexion. His name was Anduin Wrynn and his title: King of Stormwind.
Needless to say, I expected more. I wanted a grand throne with a robed monarch sitting atop it. I wanted jeweled robes and golden staves. Instead, I got a scrawny little kid who looked more like me than he did a king.
I never thought it was possible to experience disappointment, confusion, and somehow, hope all at the same time, but when I saw Anduin standing there, I realized that although I wanted the King of Stormwind to be something more than this, I realized that maybe if the leader of the Alliance looked just like me, perhaps I could be king one day.
From there, Anduin Wrynn and I would go on to sort of grow up together. With each passing expansion, from The Burning Crusade to Battle for Azeroth, Anduin grew older, wiser, more experienced.
So did I.
As each expansion came and went, Anduin and I grew up a little bit more. By Mists of Pandaria, we were both teenagers thinking we were ready to tackle the world, and by Battle for Azeroth, our worlds were ready to tackle us.
Through everything, from the earliest days of elementary school all the way up through my college years, World of Warcraft has been the one constant in my life that I could always go back to for comfort. In a world that constantly saw me undergoing changes regarding friends, family, and relationships, I knew that no matter what happened in the real world on any given day, Azeroth would be there when I came home.
Over the course of the past 15 years, myself and World of Warcraft have grown up extensively. Now, I’m experiencing the game that I grew up from an entirely new perspective. I’m getting a clean slate. And despite my attempts to reach max level, grind out mobs, and quest my way to the top in Classic WoW, I still feel compelled to go on adventures and see what Azeroth truly has to offer.
Which it why it’s quite obvious as to why one of the first things I did when Classic launched was pay a visit to King Anduin.
A lot has changed since the first time I saw him, but for a moment, as I stood there with a brand new character in an age old world, both myself and Anduin Wrynn were toddlers again – even if just for a moment. Despite the fact that both of us aged in the decade and a half since our last meeting, it felt as if nothing ever really changed. It felt like 2004 again.
For me, that’s what Classic WoW is all about. Sure, the glory and the excitement of epic max-level content is there, and experiencing it all again is most definitely thrilling. But, the true beauty of WoW’s relaunch can only be found in the moments where the game sparks feelings of joy, hope, and happiness. Feelings that you simply couldn’t find anywhere else for 15 years. Anywhere else but Azeroth.
Photo Credit: Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft Classic