Vanilla WoW – A Retrospective

The time is coming when we shall embrace our new elemental overlords and wave to Deathwing as he shall roam the world, randomly incinerating those who want to take a picture of him. The Cataclysm is coming, and I have a pretty good feeling that it’s going to be all kinds of awesome.

With that being said, I think it’s also important to mention where we’ve come from. We’ve gone through Vanilla, Burning Crusade, and Wrath – all of which have done some very smart and very stupid things. I’m fortunate in that I’ve played through the game since launch, so I’ve been able to see each part of the progression of the game and how it’s affected me, my guild, and the game world as a whole. I’ve had different mindsets through my time – what I’ve enjoyed doing has changed, but the game has changed along with it.

I’ll be making three posts, my thoughts about each of the three versions of the game we’ve had so far.  First up is Vanilla – World of Warcraft at launch until Burning Crusade.

Vanilla WoW was fun in a very painful way. I remember picking up the game on that Tuesday morning back in 2004, going home to install it, and logging on for about five minutes before the world server crashed. This is basically the story of the first week or so after launch, short periods of gameplay followed by random crashes of the world.

Leveling and Gameplay

As I’ve mentioned before, I first played a Night Elf Druid and got him to the mid-twenties before getting frustrated with him. There were few fansites out at the time, and the ones that were out didn’t have near as much information as there is available today. I had no clue what I was doing, and I had nobody to help me out with it. I took a break for a few months, then came back as a Human Mage, and actually was able to hit the level cap of 60.

The guild I was in was fairly small and was part of a small guild alliance that raided Molten Core and Onyxia, since you needed 40 people to do those. I was behind the curve a bit, so I had joined when people were starting to get bored with the raids. It was after a month or so that a few of us in our guild decided to reroll to the Horde and start over.

Leveling my Orc Warlock was a different experience than my previous characters, as this time I actually had people around the same level as me that I could do things with. We did Warsong Gulch as a full guild group, before cross-realm battlegrounds came out, and developed some rivalries with some of the Alliance players. This was purely for fun, since getting experience in BGs didn’t come out until quite a while later.

The talent trees were horrendous. After seeing what Blizzard has done with the 4.0.1 patch and the consolidation of the trees, I really feel that this is the way that they are meant to be. I really wish I could find my original World of Warcraft Strategy Guide that I bought when the game first came out, just to look at all the hilarity that was the talent trees. I remember groups making Druids cast Innervate on someone to prove that they were actually Resto.

Paladins and Druids were pigeonholed into healing, some Shamans tried to do something other than heal, but there was nothing showing that there was more than one talent tree. All the Paladin and Druid tier sets gave bonuses to healing, so if you didn’t like it, then you should reroll. Horde didn’t have Paladins at all and Fear Ward was also Alliance only – a big bone of contention for the Magmadar fight in MC.

Most items had spirit on it, back when spirit was useless. Mail and plate gear would have spirit and strength, and most quest rewards were horribly itemized. I remember specifically a quest reward from killing a mob in Alterac Mountains was a head item that had a bunch of agility… and spirit. Thankfully that’s been fixed now.

Alchemy was extremely overpowered, since there was no limit to how many potions you could have on at once. I remember our tanks having around six or seven different potions up during a raid. Engineering was a joke, except for when they brought in the repair bot. One of the few professions that has still stayed viable was Enchanting, everyone still wanted to get their glowing items.

Dungeons and Raids

To this day, some of my favourite dungeons are the ones released in Vanilla. Deadmines is straight-up well made, apart from getting into the dungeon in the first place. I got lost more times than I can count, but it was worth it just to get in there. It was linear, had good story progression, and decent rewards for the time.

Stratholme was both a fun and frustrating place. I don’t know how many times I ran that place trying to get the Tier 0 pants off Baron Rivendare, or how many times we wiped to him. I never was able to do the Tier 0.5 quests to do the 45 minute run, but just getting to him alive within an hour proved to be a challenge at times.

Then there’s the Sunken Temple – I have yet to find someone who actually enjoys going to that place. The only reason anyone ever went there was for their level 50 class quest. At times it was only marginally worth it, I know the only reason I did was to see El Pollo Grande as part of the Warlock quest. I heard that Blizzard is going to be revamping ST in Cataclysm, which will be very welcome news to pretty much everyone who has ever stepped foot in there.

I enjoyed the raids of Vanilla, or at least the few that I completed. We did Molten Core, Zul’Gurub (which I will miss greatly), Onyxia, and the Ruins of Ahn’Qiraj (AQ20) when it was still level-appropriate. As a matter of fact, to this day I have still not set foot into Blackwing Lair or the Temple of Ahn’Qiraj (AQ40), which is a bit disappointing – I’ve just never had the chance.

We managed to clear up to Majordomo Executus with about 30 of the 40 raid size, clear all of ZG, Onyxia, and AQ20. I enjoyed these raids, but probably because it was my first real experience with a full raid. Many people working together for the purpose of getting loot and having fun, and it was quite stress-free. We worked hard and we got decent progression for a guild our size, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished.

Storyline and Zones

Of all the things about Vanilla, the one thing that was a little bit disappointing was the storyline. Things were all over the place, but it’s to be expected. The game had recently launched and they wanted people to get into the world and figure out what’s going on. Every zone had a story involved with it, and usually encompassed the quest progression through it.

There were a few zones that were lacking in a good story, namely Alterac Mountains and Arathi Highlands. To this day, I almost feel sorry for those zones and how little they were developed. I remember hearing on WoW Insider that the achievement for completing all of the Arathi quests was only around 18 quests. It’s not like it’s a small zone or without potential, it’s almost as if they got lazy when figuring out what to do there.

The endgame was a bit better. You started in Molten Core, fighting Ragnaros and his minions that got called up by Thaurissan, and hoped that he wouldn’t invade Azeroth (not yet, at least). After that, you went to Onyxia and finished off the questline that was unfortunately mainly geared to the Alliance. You then went beat up Onyxia’s brother Nefarian, or if you didn’t have 40 people you went to beat up Hakkar in Zul’Gurub. When the Ahn’Qiraj stuff opened, it seemed a bit of a stretch for content as we had never heard of anything of the like before. Lastly there was Naxxramas, which very few people got to experience since it was released close to Burning Crusade’s launch.  Of all the raids, Naxx really did have the best storyline. Previous to it being there, the only presence of the Scourge was in the plaguelands, and not much else. By having a big floating necropolis appear, it gave people a reminder that Arthas was still out there.

The zones are basically as they are now, with very little change (apart from the itemization changes in 4.0.1 and the new NPCs added in Burning Crusade and Wrath). One of the biggest differences from now would definitely be the lack of heirlooms. There were times when I had to go through multiple zones just to get through one level, because I had exhausted all the quests in one area.

Going through the zones was not as much fun either, since there were fewer flight paths and no mounts until level 40. Need to go from the Crossroads to Camp Taurajo? Start running! One of the worst ones was going to Marshal’s Refuge in Un’Goro Crater. When you leveled and needed to go train, you had to decide whether it was worth the travel time or not: to get back, you had to go through Tanaris or Silithus, and since you were under level 60 at the time you only had your slow mount. When you logged out and wanted to get rested experience, it was the same decision of whether to just log out and not worry about it or hearth back to Gadgetzan.

There were a few places that weren’t bad, like Stranglethorn Vale or the Plaguelands. Those zones are probably still one of the best designed ones that were created for Vanilla, where there were lots of quests, good progression through the zone, and you were able to accomplish a few things at a time before needing to go back to the quest hub.

With the good, there was the bad. Dustwallow Marsh before it was revamped, Silithus before it was revamped, Desolace, and Badlands are ones that stick out to me. I tried to avoid those places unless absolutely necessary, since it was all incredibly boring and you spent more time traveling to your destination than actually completing the quests.

One of my favourite places was also a major pain – Jintha’alor in The Hinterlands. The reason for this is that all the mobs were elite. Not just the bosses, not just the rares, but every single mob. Trying to convince a guildmate to help clear through the quests there was like asking for help moving. The rewards were excellent for someone who is the proper level for it, but it was just very hard to do.


Vanilla was a fun time for me, because I didn’t know any better. When Burning Crusade came around, there were improvements that streamlined many aspects of the game, which I was extremely excited about. When Wrath came around, even more was brought out to improve them even further. Now with 4.0.1, it’s become even better.

I’m very glad that I was able to play through Vanilla, but I’m glad that I don’t have to any more.


6 thoughts on “Vanilla WoW – A Retrospective

  1. Well written and informative. I love hearing about vanilla wow. I got in at the tail end of vanilla and I think I was something like lvl 45 when BC launched. I never got to raid or pvp at max level in vanilla, which makes me kind of sad. I think it would have been really fun to do AQ and ZG and all those old raids back when they were the top-tier content, and I know if I would have pvp’d in vanilla I would have gotten grand marshal or close to it (I’m crazy about BG pvp, I have Battlemaster on my main which is kind of like a crappy version of Grand Marshal, or at least that’s how I see it)

    Anyways, cool article. I hope you get featured on wow insider one day!

    1. Great post, though Lemons you could not have gotten Grand Marshal. Grand Marshal was no less than 3 month topping the server in honor per week. That means there are others out there playing just as much to get it. You needed to play 24/7 to have any chance. You just can’t compare Battle Master. Battle Master is nothing in comparison.

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