Blizzard kills classic WoW private server, “Nostalrius Begins”

It’s got so many people, but it’s got no soul

Gerry Rafferty sang this about the nature of London – but these days, it’s clear that various video game companies fit that criticism just as well.

In a bittersweet post on their front page, World of Warcraft private realm-providers Nostalrius Begins have revealed that Blizzard Entertainment have begun legal proceedings to shut them down.

I have supped from the cup of nostalgia and played on Nostalrius’s server. Unlike other private realms, Nostalrius Begins spurned the idea of faster levelling, increased gold gain, and purchased bonuses in favour of delivering the only thing that mattered to a lot of people. The original World of Warcraft experience. Gone were the heirlooms, hastened levelling curve, and the ridiculously easy early dungeons that now pollute the WoW experience – and back was the pure MMORPG experience that so many of us knew and loved.

Classic Orgrimmar
Many an hour was spent here, waiting for raids

And now it’s gone – killed by the very company that originally created it.

I’m being melodramatic – Blizzard has the right to close down anything that infringes on their copyright. Technically, Nostalrius Begins does this, and it’s Blizzard’s duty to see that World of Warcraft’s rights are upheld.

The thing is, “Old Azeroth” no longer exists. Every piece of content that was present when World of Warcraft originally launched in 2004 was completely remade in the 2010 Cataclysm expansion that famously “broke” the old world and allowed Blizzard to re-envision Azeroth as a more modern MMO experience. And despite my past insistence that Cataclysm cured me of my Warcraft addiction, there’s little merit to the idea that this was a bad thing. It needed an update. But this means that everything Nostalrius Begins recreates is no longer available. It’s not provided by Blizzard. It’s not abandonware, but only by a technicality.

So why haven’t Blizzard created classic servers of their own? Because they firmly believe that people don’t really want it. Patronisingly, Blizzard sees us as children, expecting us to drop the mode after a few weeks. It’s not hard to believe that they see classic WoW as outdated, archaic – a product of its time, now regarded with disdain by its creators.

What it must be to have such faith in your product. A product that near single-handedly brought Blizzard to the prominence it enjoys today.

But, Blizzard believes that we don’t really want this. Nostalrius boasted nearly a million registered accounts, with usual active server populations of eight thousand people. At peak times, that number would almost double to fifteen thousand; three times the usual capacity of official Blizzard servers. That’s the number of people who “don’t want this”.

At one time, those numbers would have been a drop in the ocean. And it still is, but that ocean is shrinking fast; World of Warcraft subscription numbers are dwindling. From a peak of 12 million in late 2010, subscribed accounts are now suspected to be around 5.5 million. Still an incredible number for a subscription-based MMO, but clearly not what it used to be. How long can Blizzard afford to ignore money on the table?

Why do people want this? It’s in the name: “Nostalrius”. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It was powerful enough that, thanks to Nostalrius, I was able to go back and play vanilla WoW. And I loved every moment of it. The original World of Warcraft is a part of my childhood; a treasured memory. And yet Blizzard tells me that I “don’t want this”.

Well I do. And so did almost a million other people, just like me.

Get with the times, Blizzard. Build it, and we will come. And we will throw money at you for it. But until you do, you won’t be able to stop the private servers from giving us what you haven’t.

Today is also the day where Nostalrius will start being community-driven in the truest sense of the word, as we will be releasing the source code, and anonymized players data (encrypting personal account data), so the community as a whole will decide the form of the future of Nostalrius. We will still be there in the background if you want us to, but will no longer take the lead.

To sign the petition asking Blizzard to create a “Legacy” server, go here.

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How Blizzard Broke World of Warcraft

Cataclysm was a great World of Warcraft expansion. Under the pretense of the return of the mad Dragon Aspect, Deathwing, Blizzard gave themselves a chance to update an old game.

Cataclysm was released in late 2010, making WoW six years oldat that time. And that made it a very old game indeed. The MMO genre was moving on. Grind-heavy MMORPGs like EverQuest were out of fashion, replaced with games that were becoming ever more story-driven. Star Wars: The Old Republic was just around the corner, and it promised to make questing a fun experience, driven by your story, not y the whims on some guy who wanted some rabbit’s feet. It was about you now.

And WoW, with it’s reliance on old-style quests and gathering, was looking dated.

So Blizzard did want any sensible person would do. They threw a big-ass dragon at the world and started again.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved Cataclysm. It was one of my favourite expansions for WoW, and it marked the first time I was able to reach the level cap (don’t judge me). I joined the PC Gamer guild and I took part in various raids – my first ever raids! I loved my time there. And as was usual for my cycle of sub – get bored – resub – repeat, I left WoW with the full intention of coming back some day.

About six months after I left, I wanted to go back to Azeroth. But I didn’t want to return for the new content, I wanted to return for the old.

I had spent a lot of time in Old Azeroth. I once spent the Easter holiday break sat at the computer, in a conservatory, in direct sunlight, with a sheet over my head so I could see the screen. I spent that entire holiday, sweat dripping down my face, leveling a Tauren Warrior.

I could barely keep the women away from me.

But the Charred Vale as I knew it didn’t exist any more.

And that, as you may have guessed, was the root of the problem. I realised I didn’t usually resub for new content, I resubbed to revisit the places I remembered from my childhood. I had spent a lot of time in Azeroth, and they were fond memories of mine.

And it was all… gone. In remaking the world, Blizzard had destroyed everything I held dear. And it was gone for good. I could never go back and visit it in the same way.

The current Warcraft storylines look incredible. Utterly amazing. Blizzard have gone from strength to strength, taking the storyline through Pandaria and back into Azeroth’s original lore. They’ve made an engaged and thoroughly engrossing world.

But Azeroth holds nothing for me any more.

Blizzard had done what I had never managed to do. They had made it so I would never resubscribe to World of Warcraft ever again.

If you fancy playing World of Warcraft for whatever reason, you can find it over at the Battle.net website. Otherwise, download something like Hearthstone or Heroes of the Storm. They’s free!

World of Warcraft and free-to-play

The state of World of Warcraft is a constant discussion on gaming websites and blogs, and it’s obvious to see why this is the case. It’s the largest MMORPG to ever have existed and it still dominates the market despite losing large chunks of its subscriber base in the last twelve months. The numbers peaked at twelve million, but have only fallen since then, prompting the usual questions of whether WoW should convert to F2P, B2P, or whatever acronym is favoured this month.

But I’ve always wondered why monthly subscriptions are so reviled among certain gamers. On the surface, not wanting to pay per month is a common sense; I’ve already paid for this game, now why should I pay per month in order to keep playing? I already pay for my internet connection, electricity and everything else that other games need in order to keep going past a single month of gaming, so why is this so special? Hell, even multiplayer games don’t charge for the use of the multiplayer. Microsoft may well do, but the games makers themselves don’t do, usually. So why should an MMO be any different?

Subscription fees on Elder Scrolls Online? NOOOOOOOO!

And that’s the answer, really. It’s an MMO. It’s not a normal multiplayer. Everything is bigger and better, and the costs of running the game go up along with it. The worlds require more space to run, and that means a larger overhead. And those servers need regular maintenance, and a team constantly available to fix those servers when they occasionally go kaput.

Not only that, but the money goes towards a constant and consistent development team, who balance the game, nerf and buff, add new areas, and fix bugs. Patches are a sign that the game is being constantly worked on, and those people need to be paid for the work that they’re doing. And they are doing work.

And how much is that monthly subscription that people so dread? WoW is currently priced at £8.99 (€12.99/$14.99) per month at the most expensive option. That’s roughly £2.24 (€3.24/$3.74) per week, or 32p (46c/53c) per day. Can you play enough WoW per day to justify that expense? Depends on how you justify your time of course, but 32p’s worth of play is a pretty large bargain in my book. If I get an hour of gameplay out of that, I could end up doing anything. I could be fighting over strategic locations in a PvP struggle. I could be tagging along with thirty-nine other people to take on raid bosses. I could be infiltrating capital cities as a rogue, cheekily sapping people. I could just take an hour out to chat to some friends I met online. For 32p a day. I struggle to think of any other activity I could be paying for that would give me the same value for money.

Of course, if you’re really not interested than this isn’t going to sway you. And nor should it. This isn’t meant for you. This is for those who view subscriptions as only being better than the devil because Satan stole their shoes. This is for those who’re put off games by the need to pay per month to play. For those who use that as a reason to argue against the game, as if willingness to pay places people in the wrong. Take a step back, run the numbers, and think about it. If you feel you can’t afford it, or just don’t want to, then fair play. If you really do want to play the game, don’t let 32p a day put you off. By signing up, you’re not signing your life away, and you can unsub at any time you feel you’re not getting your worth out of it.

This may still be a little far to go though.

World of Warcraft is unlikely to go free-to-play or buy-to-play any time soon. A move to full F2P is generally a desperation move on the part of the company, and whilst WoW may be losing players, it’s still sat on more people than the rest of the market combined.

WoW, free-to-play? Maybe at some point in the future, but certainly not yet. Now go get your shoes back; I have a fiddle you can borrow.

RIFT

I’d done the whole RIFT free trial thing before, but I’d stupidly activated it during my university exam period, so I couldn’t totally commit myself to the game and I lost my seven days before I knew it. And I didn’t really care. As it turned out, I was bored halfway into level five anyway; the old style of quests and the rather dreary Defiant opening area just bored me to tears. I knew that the eponynmous rifts were going to be good, but I just didn’t have the time, and what time I did have I couldn’t be bothered to use getting through a shitty starting area.

Since I’ve been playing an awful lot of World of Warcraft again, I decided to give RIFT another go, mainly because I could see my life disappearing into an Azeroth-shaped hole of archaeology. I started another free trial account (don’t tell Trion!), and decided to kick things off differently thsi time. First of all, I chose to become a Guardian, the religiously inspired faction of RIFT. I’d originally avoided these god-botherers because they were so uncool when compared with the machine using Defiant, but I wasn’t planning to keep this account even if I bought the game and I wanted to see how the Guardian opening held up to the Defiant.

What immediately struck me on choosing my faction was the tiny differences in race between the two sides. Both sides have a human and an elf. Granted, the third race does mix it up a little (Dwarf and Bahmi), and each is completely different since one is tall and stocky whilst the other is short… and stocky. It really seems like creators of fantasy MMOs have run out of ideas where races are confirmed. It really came to a head in FFXIV when I was asked to play a ‘Hyur’, or whatever stupid name they’d chosen to fill the role of ‘human’. Everyone just seems to want to take the archtype and then change the name so that they can make stab at originality. I don’t know whether they’re too scared to move away from the stereotypes for fear of alienating people, or whether they’re purely lazy. I really hope it’s the former, but this halfway-house of creativity just isn’t cutting it. I really don’t have a problem with playing a human, or an elf, so if you want to put one in your game please stop changing the damn names and hoping we don’t notice, because we do. Fucking ‘Elvaan’.

Anyway, I’d chosen a Bahmi mage for my last character, almost entirely for the pleasure of making a huge and hulking avatar into a physically frail magi. The spells had real bite and impact to them, but the change in the spell themes across the sub-classes was quite off-putting – one minute I was throwing fire, and the next I was calling the forces of nature. Perhaps I was choosing the wrong schools when I picked a healing school next to the purely offensive pyromancer class, but it didn’t feel quite right, especially when compared against the rigidly organised spell schoools of Azeroth. We most certainly weren’t in Azeroth any more.

That attitude reflected in the quest structures. Over the months since Cataclysm‘s release I’ve grown accustomed to the much easier structure of new-WoW‘s quests. Quests in Cataclysm generally have a nice gloss over them to disguise what would otherwise be a boring ‘go-here-and-do-this’ experience. For instance, an otherwise boring go-to mission to get intelligence on an impending alliance between two enemies leads to hiding in a wardrobe and spying on the meeting itself. Instead of telling you what’s happening, new-WoW prefers to show you, and this adds a whole new cinematic experience to otherwise boring MMO questing. RIFT, for some god-awful reason, has decided to stick to ‘fetch-this’, or ‘kill-this’ quests, and this really kills the opening scenes of the game when you’re stuck doing the worst part of an MMO for far too long. I just wanted to kill some god-damn rifts!

Once you get past that though, as I finally did with my huma- sorry, Mathosian rogue, the rift mechanic was as good as I was expecting. Whilst I initially had to do some boring quests to get my levels up, the first time I ever came across a group of players battling to seal a rift it was an exhilarating experience. Obviously, I dove right in and at the end of the event I received a small amount of loot all to myself. From that point on I was hooked on rift warfare, and I happily trotted across the map to help seal rifts. As an ascended (a person able to house multiple souls – read, ‘classes’), you also have the option to open a tear and let the rift through. I assume this is so you can start the battle on your own terms, and the tooltip for the ability even hints using it against enemy territories. Whilst this adds a whole new level of strategy to the game (I imagined opening a rift, defending it until it got really big, and then letting it loose) I just used it just to have a good fight. And that was great, because most people seemed to have the same idea as myself, and not long into the first phase I was often joined by other players, eager to gain their share of the loot. Sealing a rift comes in several phases, the earlier stages being easier than the later ones, and each have their requirements to finish, and each has their own amount of loot. This is meant to give everyone a chance at some loot, even if they can’t fully seal the rift by themselves. With this, I was able to start a rift without worrying about not being able to finish it as I knew people would usually be on their way to help me, and even if they weren’t, I could still slip away with some loot.

With this happy little side-quest open to me all the time, I did much less questing and my progress through the levels slowed down. Oddly enough, I found this to be a tremendous boon as during the first day I had already hit level eleven. Since the free trial only lets you level up to level fifteen, I saw my prolonged exposure to be a good thing and ever since I started doing the rifts ‘full time’ I never really bothered to go back to doing quests. At this moment in time, I would still happily level up purely on the backs of those rifts.

Not much compares to when a rift bursts into the world. The ground shakes, the land around you warps and changes, and… things come through the epicentre of the rift. You actually feel that there’s an event you have to take part in, and you genuinely feel a threat towards the world. If left unchecked, they can and will spread across the zone. The first time I encountered a full-scale invasion it was an amazing thing. Multiple rifts opened across the zone all at once and each spewed forth their share of invaders to attack the nearby towns. These too come in phases – defeat the invasions, then the rifts, and then the large boss who comes at the end. These bosses are huge, and whilst it takes away from the game somewhat to just have to hit it for a good fifteen minutes until it drops, without having to use any tactics, it’s still fun and really great to see so many players co-operating for the world’s good.

And the loot of course.

The bottom line is I got bored, again. But this time I came away with positive feelings towards the game. I played the trial until the end, and I actually felt like I’d enjoyed myself this time and experienced something different. It’s not a WoW-killer; it’s too different in too many ways. But isn’t that what the market needs to have: not stuff that’s trying to beat WoW, but better it? Bring new stuff to the table and stop trying to be WoW. Be your own game, and succeed on your own terms.

I was happy to not be in Azeroth any more, but being away from WoW didn’t really come into my mind whilst I was there. Instead of playing a WoW-killer, I was playing RIFT. And that’s good.

Adios.

I forgot to take any screenshots whilst playing, so poo on me. The free trial can be found on the RIFT website. It’s subscription-based, but the trial is long enough to decide whether you want it or not.

Damn That Snake!

I have a confession to make.

Months after making that post, I was led by the nose back into the accursed game which I love so much that I never play it.

Yes, I subscribed to EVE Online for a month. I regret doing so, as all people who have visited a seedy brothel do. But, like them, I hope to have left a wiser man. I’m wise enough to know that I’ll be visiting it’s turgid depths again though. Even if it did give me syphilis.

You have no idea how much I wanted to make a “your mum” joke in that last paragraph.

So, I went back to my old Caldari character for a month, hoping to do some missions and get some money and reputation. In non-EVE speak, I have a character specialising in missiles who does quests.

My hope was, as always, to get stuck into EVE and start enjoying it as much as my clan mates do. I did missions for about two days, and continued training my character for about three weeks. Yeah, I failed as epically as I usually do, and now I’m broke, which’ll hopefully stop me from charging wallet-first into it next time.

Again, I’d been brought into the EVE universe by talk from my friends and visions of doing these fun things for myself. Unfortunately, the fun part of EVE is totally overshadowed by the part of it which is no fun at all, and yet is totally vital; making money.

Ways of making Interstellar Kredits (ISK) involve one of the following:

  • Mining – this involves targeting an asteroid, turning on your mining lasers, and then al-tabbing out of game until your hold is full of minerals. Then you sell the minerals.
  • Ratting – grinding in MMO terms. You kill NPC mobs over and over again for the loot. Majorly boring, basically.
  • Mission running – this is the EVE version of quests; you pick up the mission from an NPC agent, and you complete the objectives given to you. This actually sounds like fun, until you realise that almost every single type of mission is the same. It’s either “go here and kill stuff”, or “go here and get stuff”. That’s it. That might sound incredibly similar to the World of Warcraft quests, and pretty much any MMO, but at least they give you stuff to look at. Once you’ve seen one starfield, you’ve pretty much seen them all.
  • Complex running – pretty much the same as instancing in WoW, only you’re not certified to be alone. If they can find you, anyone can jump into the complex to get you. So yeah, that can be jumpy. This is rather higher end than the other stuff though, so don’t expect to jump straight into doing this one.

I’m sure there are more, but I don’t really know what they are. Apparently planetary stuff has really taken off (lolirony) and can make you money, but I don’t know much about that.

From my personal experience of talking to many EVE players, the process of making money is a precursor to the fun part of the game, and a necessary evil. Because it is an evil. A boring, soul-destroying evil.

But I think that’s what a lot of players enjoy. It’s a totally immersive and hardcore game. The learning curve is the first test of that. It weeds out the players it doesn’t want or need in order to progress. EVE doesn’t want the carebear fest that WoW can be. It isn;t going to hold your hand, and it certainly won’t cuddle you after pirates have brutally taken you from behind. A trained monkey could reach level 80. It couldn’t play EVE. The totally immersive, real universe feel of EVE is something that brings in a lot of players.

And sadly, it’s not something that I go in for. I don’t have the patience, or indeed, the concentration to play it properly. I’m not ready for a second life. I struggle with having one most of the time. I like having games I can dip in and out of at my personal whims and desires. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t like that, and I could play games like EVE Online, Achaea: Dreams of Divine Lands and Wurm Online properly, and to the extent that they deserve. But that’s not me, and EVE isn’t my game.

The sooner I realise that, i can stop tempting myself back into it every few months. Damn shiny thing syndrome.

In the meantime, here’s a video that shows EVEs charms in a way that I couldn’t describe. Skip to about 50 seconds in, to trim the excessive intro.

Crack, And Why I Love It So.

So, it’s been a while since I updated this blog at all, and an awful lot of games have been played in the time between my EVE craving and now. I’ll try to cram them into a few posts over the next few weeks, but I’ll probably miss some stuff out.

Oh, as a note, I never got back into EVE. I managed to stave off the pangs of hunger long enough for them to subside and be replaced with something else. In this case, Lord of the Rings Online – which I’ll mention in a later blog post. Briefly.

Alright, I’ll kick off my post with a biggie; World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft

So some of you are guaranteed to be groaning at this point. But really, as an easily distracted gamer, how can I not have played World of Warcraft at some point? As the guy to be distracted by shiny things I can’t fail to have been pulled in at some point.

Alright, so that point was around four years ago (the seventh of August, 2005, to be exact), but that’s not the point. At the time (bright-eyed and innocent), I was looking for a MMORPG to involve myself in; having a strange, rose-tinted view of online play ever since my Runescape days. After trying many, many different free MMOs, I came across World of Warcraft. Alright, it wasn’t free, but doing a little research, it seemed worth the money.

Of course, my “research” was looking through their official site. Again with the shiny things.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I bought the game and have been having a love-hate relationship with it ever since. The longest I’ve ever gone for without a subscription has been five months, even though I’ve probably never played a subscription all the way through. I’ve always gotten bored before the six months is up, and am usually inactive when it runs out. Still, I always come back.

The main reason I’ve always come back is because of the involvement I have with the game’s society. Despite never having been a major member of a guild, or joined a WoW-centric forum, I’ve always had links back to the game that’s dragged me back in again and again. One of these has been the WoW podcast, Taverncast; a childish, yet mature trip through various bits of Warcraft fun with added beer. Seriously, any one of their episodes can get me cracking up, regardless of what it’s about. The other one of these has been my cousin. I’d have been clean from my personal crack for several months, say, and I’ll go to visit him.

And he’ll be raiding.

Or doing something cool.

Or just AFK in a city.

All it takes is for me to see it. Or for him to talk about it. And I’m straight back in again. I’ll get home and throw myself on Blizzard’s mercy, apologising feverishly for my foolish desire for a life, and offering my money and my soul in recompense.

And Blizzard would look down at me, laugh and supply me once again with six months of grinding and leveling…

And yes, only those. Because I have never ever hit the level cap in any of my almost five years playing Warcraft. My highest level character is a 72 Rogue, who was leveled up to 75 by some hackers when my account got highjacked. Again, my love of trying new things, and consistently getting bored of old ones crosses into games, as well as across them, accounting for my alt-o-holic attitude.

But why do I love this game so much as to come back to it, again and again? I really couldn’t tell you. I love the art style – it’s bright enough so that distinct contrasts between characters and landscapes are actually possible – unlike Age of Conan, for instance. It’s also cartoony, and wonderfully exaggerated. Areas always have an air of difference to them, perhaps to a stupid degree in some cases (the area full of snow being right next door to one full of lava, for instance), but hey, that’s what Cataclysm’s for, right?

Anyway, back to what I actually did this past month. Well, I’ve been leveling up my Undead Mage. I’ve always had an urge to play a Mage, and earlier this year, I bit the bullet and raised one past level 18, finally surpassing my previous efforts. I’ve been having a lot of fun with this character, and I certainly want it to be my first (level-capped character, of course). I won’t deny that a large part of my leveling experience has involved a lot of adventuring using the Dungeon Finder, which has been an absolute boon for someone like myself. I’d never been half of the dungeons in Old Azeroth before the Dungeon Finder would randomly put me there. Maraudon, Lower Blackrock Spire, the three Dire Maul wings, and even a brief and brutal foray into Undead Stratholme.

All this has taken me to level 59, and my progress has somewhat stuttered there for a time. Oddly enough, it’s not down to my attention span this time. Most of the dungeons that I’m eligable for at this point, tend to take a fairly long time to complete, and I simply don’t have that much time now I’m at university and have developed what is known as “a life”. Scary, I know. I could leave halfway through an instance, but I’ve never liked that approach, especially when there are shiny things waiting at the end of it.

As another excuse (or reason), the university has a Firewall that allows Warcraft under the most silly of exceptions. After logging onto my account, I must log into a level 1 character on the Darkspear realm. Then log out. Then I can log into a level 1 character on MY realm. Only after logging out of that character, can I then access my real character. It’s bloody wearing, let me tell you. I can’t just log on; I need to go through this rigmarole every single time. That’s the reason I have a character called “Access” on my character list.

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Haha, this was originally meant to be a post amalgamating all of my gaming history of the past month into a single post. After writing almost a thousand words on WoW alone, I’ve decided that I’ll just leave as a standalone WoW post.

‘Til next time, true believers!