How to get into World of Warcraft Classic: what you need to know about vanilla WoW

World of Warcraft Classic
(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

World of Warcraft Classic launched in August 2019 with many thinking that player numbers would drop off drastically once the rose-tinted glasses came off. But the original World of Warcraft experience continues to be a huge success for Blizzard and has actually doubled the number of players subscribed to WoW since before its launch last year.

Modern World of Warcraft is expecting its eighth expansion, Shadowlands before the end of the year - exciting stuff if you've kept up with WoW over the years. But if you've drifted away as the game has undergone various - inevitable - changes and you're looking for an MMO experience that's a little more gritty, you could do a lot worse than jumping into World of Warcraft Classic. 

 So what's the big deal with WoW Classic? 

(Image credit: Blizzard Entertainment)

World of Warcraft Classic became a thing when Blizzard finally gave in following years of players calling for a return to the 'vanilla' experience of Warcraft. Players got their fix for years through various private 'legacy' servers but when Blizzard ordered Nostalrius, the largest of these to close its doors back in 2016, fans once again called for an official 'vanilla' server. Blizzard finally relented and announced World of Warcraft Classic during the opening ceremony of BlizzCon 2018. 

But why all the fuss?

When World of Warcraft originally launched way back in 2004, it drew in a huge number of players and rapidly grew to have millions of subscribers worldwide. Aside from the sheer scale of the game, a large force behind the success of the MMO was the world in which it was set.

Azeroth has been around since the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans launched in 1994 and the subsequent Warcraft 2 games further built on the story and lore. Warcraft 3 was probably the most popular of these early games and introduced us to many of the characters that would go on to play large roles in World of Warcraft, including Sylvanas Windrunner, Jaina Proudmore, and Arthas Menethil, among many others.

So when World of Warcraft launched in 2004, all of the lore, background, and locations that had been laid out in the earlier Warcraft games were brought to life in Blizzard's vast MMO.

Not for the faint-hearted

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If you've only got a few hours a week to dedicate to an MMO, Classic may not be the game for you and you may be better off looking at modern Warcraft to fill that Azeroth-shaped hole. Having said that, if you're not particularly concerned with endgame content such as raiding or max-level dungeons and just want to explore Azeroth as it was in 2006 then by all means, carry on. But if you want to enjoy everything that Classic has to offer, then you should be prepared to spend a lot of time not only levelling your character but completing various Attunement quests and grinding reputation to access some of those late-game instances.

World of Warcraft Classic doesn't have those quality-of-life improvements that you may be accustomed to in modern Warcraft - or indeed many other current MMOs. For starters, the scaling of enemies is a lot less forgiving and you could find yourself becoming quickly overwhelmed it you take on more than two enemies at once without preparation. Travelling from one place to another in Classic Azeroth is also far more time consuming - flight points aren't as plentiful as they are these days and with in-game gold not as easily come by, you may find yourself struggling to save up to even purchase your first Riding Skill and mount.

But it's not all doom and gloom. The increased grind of Classic World of Warcraft pays off with a feeling of real progression as you watch your character grow stronger as you gain levels, gear, and overall experience.

The benefits of starting now

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You may be wondering if it's worth starting your journey through old Azeroth now, almost one year after launch. The answer is a most definite 'yes'.

For a start, you won't have to deal with the queues to log into the game - or the queues to kill a single quest mob because of player saturation. Of course, busier servers on big patch days may still see the occasional login queue but they are generally less common these days.

Another benefit of starting now is that the game's economy will have settled down. Depending on the population of the server you choose, materials for crafting should be more readily available on the Auction House and at much more reasonable prices. And if you want to dabble in selling stuff yourself - to help save up for your first mount perhaps - you should have a much more stable market to do so.

While undoubtedly there won't be nearly as many players in the levelling areas to readily group up with as there were at launch, guilds have had a chance to establish themselves so you shouldn't have any problem finding a one to suit your needs and offer help and advice as and when it's required.

What content is available in WoW Classic?

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World of Warcraft Classic has been receiving waves of content updates since launch last year, tying in with the content releases for the original game. It's still unclear if the game will get any 'new' expansions such as The Burning Crusade or Wrath of the Lich King. Blizzard has said it's "not opposed" to adding expansions to the Classic experience but no decision has yet been made.

At the time of writing, WoW Classic is currently on Phase 5 of the PVE content schedule (see below) and the Ahn’Qiraj raid has been unlocked so, once you reach max level, you'll have access to a number of raids and World Bosses to tackle.

PvE content schedule:

  • Phase 1 (aka Vanilla launch): Molten Core, Onyxia, Maraudon
  • Phase 2: Dire Maul, Azuregos, Kazzak
  • Phase 3: Blackwing Lair, Darkmoon Faire, Darkmoon Deck
  • Phase 4: Zul'Gurub, Green Dragons
  • Phase 5: Ahn’Qiraj War Effort kicks off, Ahn’Qiraj raids start as per the progression of the war effort. 
  • Phase 6: Naxxramas, Scourge Invasion

PvP content schedule:

  • Phase 1 (aka Vanilla launch): PvP will be available, but it wont feature any rewards or stat tracking for tacking part
  • Phase 2: Honor System (including Dishonorable Kills) will be introduced, PvP Rank Rewards rolled out
  • Phase 3: Alterac Valley (version 1.12), Warsong Gulch battleground introduced
  • Phase 4: Arathi Basin
  • Phase 6: World PvP objectives in Silithus and Eastern Plaguelands

How to play World of Warcraft Classic

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If you think you're ready to play World of Warcraft Classic, you'll need a subscription to do so. Unlike modern Warcraft which lets you create as many characters as you like and play them up to level 20 without subscribing, if you're after the vanilla experience, you'll need to put your money where your mouth is. The good news is that once subscribed, you'll have access to both Classic and modern Warcraft.

You can either pay a month at a time or you choose to subscribe for longer which will work out slightly cheaper.

  • 1-month subscription: £9.99/€12.99/$14.99
  • 3-month subscription: £28.17/€35.97/$41.97
  • 6-month subscription: £52.14/€65.94/$77.94

Sarah James is a freelance video game writer with bylines at PC Gamer, TechRadar, Official PlayStation Magazine, PCGamesN, Kotaku UK, RockPaperShotgun, GamesRadar, Red Bull Gaming, GAMINGbible, and more.