World of Warcraft is not the very first MMORPG. However, it has come to represent the entire genre due to its number of fans and its longevity. It remains the most successful MMORPG in the world, and we are still getting expansions over 15 years since the game first came out.
In fact, WoW has changed quite a bit since it debuted in 2004, and many players have had very different experiences over the years. And that leaves us with the big question: is it worth going back to WoW for veteran players, or for new players to begin their adventure? And is the monthly subscription fee worth it?
I’ll break it down for you below.
As a game, World of Warcraft looks much better now than it did in 2004. However, the essential designs of certain characters and spaces remain largely the same. This is because the timeless designs of the game have helped it to never look truly old and outdated.
Many MMORPGs strive to create the most realistic-looking worlds and characters possible. Inevitably, these games age poorly as what looks cool and cutting-edge one year is going to look painfully outdated a few years later.
World of Warcraft deliberately embraced a bright, cartoony art style from the very beginning. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, the WoW designs have held up much better than other MMORPGs that tried to look realistic (such as The Lord of the Rings Online).
As an added bonus, these simple designs help the game run well on most computers. Blizzard realized early on that making it easier for more people to play added up to more people playing!
As new World of Warcraft expansions come out, there is a lot of debate in the gamer community about whether things have gotten too friendly for “newbs” and casual gamers. In my opinion, though, the accessibility of WoW is one of its key strengths.
You don’t need previous RPG experience to dive into this game. And veteran players who left can easily come back without worrying they won’t know what they are doing.
There are numerous in-game tutorial prompts, an easy-to-use map, and plenty of other features that make it easy to just login and play with no preparation. And this accessibility even extends to one of the game’s finest features: the dungeons.
Most of WoW is an open-world experience. You can spend hours simply walking, riding, sailing, or flying all over the fictional world.
However, the dungeons are like a curated experience. A minimum number of players (typically five) goes in, fights through an army of extra-beefy bad guys, and then fights the Big Bad at the very end.
In this way, WoW mimics the kinds of dungeon delves that tabletop RPG players love to experience. And these dungeons favor player diversity: you’re destined for failure if everyone focuses only on dealing damage (or DPS). You’ll also need a player or two as a “tank” to absorb damage and a player or two as a healer to keep everyone alive.
Back in the day, it took a lot of time and server chatting to find enough people to go into a dungeon. Now, the game features a built-in dungeon Group Finder that works like the matchmaking system of other multiplayer games: it throws you into a dungeon when it finds enough other players. In the meantime, you keep on playing.
In case you were wondering, these dungeons are worth the time and effort because they have some of the best loot for your character. And the larger Raids have some of the best loot of all, but they require even more players. Fortunately, the same Group Finder feature can find you partners for a raid.
A True Online Community
For many people, WoW very quickly becomes a social experience. To maximize success, players join guilds that help them navigate tough dungeons or simply survive PvP in the open world. And these guilds often have extensive plans for future dungeons, raids, and other group activities.
Some people dislike this because of how time-consuming it can be. After all, if you raid every weekend with the guild, then the game might start feeling a bit like a second job.
However, I look at this community-building as an added benefit of the game. You can always avoid guilds, skip raids, and play the game as casually as you want. But if you want to engage with the community and possibly even form some lifelong friendships, the opportunity is there.
Ultimately, I recommend that everyone plays World of Warcraft at least once. The game literally has something for everyone.
It’s not all about fighting and leveling up. Your character can take up a trade (like blacksmithing) and work on selling his wares for in-game gold.
Maybe you want to go off script a bit? Numerous role-playing guilds let you enjoy a kind of “game within a game” and further expand your character’s backstory.
Don’t like the game as is? There are countless legal mods that allow you to customize the experience and engage with WoW on your terms.
Finally, there are more expansions than you can shake an enchanted stick at. Some of them extend the game’s connection to its past (Wrath of the Lich King is like one big sequel to Warcraft III, for example). Other expansions bring players face to face with their own past, with Blizzard releasing a WoW Classic Mode that transports players to the game as it was in 2004.
Other expansions are just silly fun. Want to fight orcs as a kung-fu panda? Then Mists of Pandaria has you covered.
All in all, World of Warcraft remains the finest MMORPG ever made. Not every expansion is great, but the core gameplay remains amazing. There’s a reason this is still the gold standard for every MMORPG of the last 20 years!