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Sunday, October 21, 2007

The History of the World (of Warcraft) Part I

It appears that it is time for me to branch out from my usual silly antics here on WoW Insider, and take a moment to flex my writing skills instead of my artistic ones. Today I would like to speak to you about some of the long history of WoW, but not in the "Know Your Lore" sense of history. WoW Insider reader Tim wrote in to request some information on the evolution of World of Warcraft, from its infancy in beta to launch and beyond and I, having been here through the majority of it, decided that I should put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?) and share what I know and what I have witnessed along the way.

Are you aware (and I'm sure some of you are) that at one point in World of Warcraft, there was an experience penalty suffered when you were slain? Indeed, even though the lack of experience loss is one of the things that sets current WoW apart from other MMOs, back in its infancy the death penalty was practically the same as what you would find in EverQuest or Final Fantasy XI, though without the de-leveling found in the latter.

Let us take a moment to sit down, pull up a cup of your favorite socially acceptable beverage, and go over a handful of the many changes that WoW has gone through since Blizzard introduced it to a select number of beta testers back in 2004.

When I was first accepted into the WoW beta, it was in the period following the 0.6.0 patch, so naturally I'm going to start my discussion there. At the time, my friends and I were heavily invested into the MMOs of they day – EverQuest, Dark Age of Camelot, and the newcomer to the scene, the previously mentioned FFXI. Upon seeing the early WoW screenshots and videos that Blizzard had released, the opinions of my friends were basically divided in to two camps: Those that were ravenously excited about the game, and those that felt its visual style was far too cartoonish to be taken seriously. I was in the former group, being a huge fan of pretty much everything that Blizzard had ever released, the Warcraft games in particular. I applied for beta the moment they posted a sign up page, and eventually I received the blessed email that informed me I had been accepted in.

My first character, as was my tradition with pretty much all RPGs, MMO or single player, was of course the paladin Arturis. Signing in to the game, I was overwhelmed at how true to Warcraft III the style had translated, and immediately I set to work slaying wolves and kobolds outside the quaint little abbey in Northshire.

The talent system, at that time, had been completely removed in order to be re-written from the ground up. The previous talent system, I later learned from presentations at both BlizzCon '05 and '07, was a very simple 3 step upgrade scheme. For example, you could take a spell like Fireball, upgrade it to a second tier that had more damage and a longer range, and then push it up to a third tier which once again upgraded the damage, range, and perhaps added a dot effect to it. I don't remember the actual specifics of it, because that was both before my time and paladins don't get to throw around too many fireballs, even back then.

In the place of a talent system there was a completely different skill system from what we know and use today. Every level, starting at level 1, earned you a single skill point that you could later spend to learn new weapons or trade skills. Since Arturis, in all his previous incarnations across various games, had been a master swordsman, I set my first goal as getting to level 10 so that I could invest my 10 skill points into purchasing the ability to use two handed swords. In doing so, I encountered my first major bug in the game that I would encounter frequently until well after beta; Creatures were spawning half (and some times completely) inside of trees and cliffs, caught just enough that they couldn't move in most cases, and couldn't be hit in others.

Patch 0.7.0 rolled around and introduced a slew of new features into the game, though only one of them affected me at my low level: The mail system. For the first time I discovered the joy of being able to send in-game items to an alt without having to trust someone enough to trade the item to a third party and back again. Though FFXI had a mail system at the time, the WoW system was by far less clumsy to deal with, and to this day one of my favorite features of WoW.

The Auction House was introduced in Patch 0.8.0, and though the patch notes list them as being added to every major city, I only recall seeing them in Ironforge and Orgrimmar (though I was only in my high teens with Arturis at the time, and had not made it down to Booty Bay yet.) If the AH's had been added to the other cities then they were removed almost immediately – I spent a great amount of time traveling back and forth between Stormwind and Ironforge just to use the AH, and this was before the tram existed between them.

O'Eight brought in another huge change – the first talent trees were introduced, for Warriors and Mages. This prompted me to create a dwarven warrior – I don't recall the name, honestly, though I'm sure it was something guttural and clandestine, which would make your knees knock and your spine shiver at the mere sound of it. Or perhaps it was Bob. The world may never know, because I don't think I got much more then level 3 with him. The Dwarf Possibly Named Bob and I just didn't click, and he was soon deleted. I spent more time staring at the blank panel that would some day be the paladin talent tree and imagining what kind of holy justice I would eventually be able to dish out to the demons and undead of the world of Azeroth.

Another system that got an overhaul in addition to the talent system was the rest state system. It had gone through several incarnations, supposedly, but when I started playing it was less of a reward for taking time off and more of a penalty for playing too long. That's right, if you played longer then a certain amount of time it would decrease the amount of experience you received, as a way to insinuate that your character was getting too tired to go on and that he needed a nap at the nearest inn. With the revamp in 0.8 they removed the penalty and normalized it to the way we see rest state today, going from rested (with bonus exp) to normal (without bonus exp) and not below.

Patch 0.9 brought about the introduction of a brand new character class that you may have heard of called "The Hunter". Talent trees were introduced for the priest and rogue classes. It was either this patch or the one previous that paladins lost the Healing and Mana Auras that used to make eating/drinking unnecessary for anyone in the paladin's group. I was little bummed out by the loss, but I could understand the reasons for removing them. A week or so later brought us patch 9.1 with a few important bug fixes. Now I can't recall the exact time line (it has been awhile), but it was somewhere around here they Blizzard implemented a "fix" to those creatures that were getting stuck in the terrain. Now, if a creature could directly attack you yet you could attack it, it would automatically Evade any attempts to damage it. This is still in the game today, though you don't see it anywhere near as often. This fix didn't actually decrease the number of creatures stuck in the terrain – they were still getting stuck well past when the game went live – it just made it so you couldn't kill those creatures for free experience, which some players were abusing for faster leveling.

This brings us to the final live release, which was quickly followed up with patch 1.1 that introduced all those fun little things we call Racial Abilities. Paladin talents finally arrived, along with those for hunters. And Arturis was officially wiped from the beta server (along with the rest of the beta characters), only to be rise again and start over on Elune. Still, this version of WoW as it existed on launch day is amazingly different then the game we play today, but that would be a topic for a separate article for another day.