January, 2004. I remember it being a particularly cold, snowy Sunday as I sat in my church office and wasted a few hours browsing around on the internet. I found myself captivated with an upcoming MMORPG that was supposed to come out this year. Called… what was it? World of Warcraft.
There was scarce information on the game — just a few anemic previews and loads of speculation on forums. A couple testimonies from reporters who gained access to the alpha. Nevertheless, I ate it up, and started a nine-month vigil for one of the most-anticipated games I’ve ever experienced.
I thought I’d relate, in a pair of articles, about my experiences with WoW starting at the very beginning: from pre-beta through the open beta and release. These days, you can’t assume that most people have been around for the three or so years since WoW’s been out — most people have NO idea, for instance, how Shamans were THE overpowered class for the first half year or so, how painfully stunted warlocks were, and how all of the little tools and in-game UI improvements were simply not there.
2004 was an incredibly long year, in terms of waiting. I filled the hours by playing City of Heroes — an excellent MMORPG, but depth-challenged and prone to giving me headaches. Along with thousands of others, I was incredibly eager to get into the WoW beta, even knowing that it would “spoil” the release version of the game for me. I didn’t care — for all of the “WoW is not original” rants that you read, it really looked like something new, improved and far more polished than anything out there.
I never got into the closed beta, but I followed the message boards closely. I remember the utter outroar over the first version of the “rest system”, and how your XP would *decrease* the longer you played in one session (this was supposed to encourage alt playing and playing in moderation… but Blizzard quickly reversed their position on it). There was a beloved community manager at the time who unfortunately left before the game’s release (and I forget her name, but she was definitely THE voice of Blizzard for most of 2004).
What seemed new and revolutionary? Well, you have to consider that in 2004, my online RPG experiences were limited to Anarchy Online, FFXI, City of Heroes and… well, I guess that’s it. I resisted Everquest and Asheron’s Call and DAOC, knowing that I’d soon be getting into a fantasy MMORPG, and not wishing to ruin the experience when it came. But all of these games really worked hard to make online gaming obtuse, bloated and inaccessible. AO, for instance, let you allocate dozens of points every time you leveled into various skills — but you had no reference for which skills were important, which were meaningless, and what the points meant. In WoW, we found out that you’d be getting an automatic set of skills, and then could modify your character with unique talent trees.
I recall thinking that the quest system seemed almost revolutionary — that you’d naturally find some quests in the world, quests would lead to other quests in a chain, and that quest givers would be identifiable with a little ! over their heads. We take this for granted now, but certainly not then.
Fun fact: Hunters were the last class in beta to receive their talent trees (players simply played the class talent-less, if you can believe it), as theirs was one of the more difficult to impliment.
I couldn’t wait for release, so when November 2004 rolled around and the option to get into open beta presented itself, I hopped in with glee. I remember telling my wife (fiancee at the time) how incredible this was. And I remember my first WoW character: a human female Paladin that I leveled up to 11 in Elwynn forest. I had no desire to play a pally on release, hence why I chose it for open beta.
One of the most fun events I’ve ever seen in WoW came at the end of beta — and a few days before release. The GMs literally unleashed hell on the major cities in WoW, summoning giant demons to stomp around causing chaos and killing us by the ten-score. Skeletons, everywhere. Then the final countdown: 5 minutes until server shutdown.
1 minute until server shutdown.