You can’t go home again, as the author Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, because home is never what it used to be. Home changes — sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually. Sometimes the people that made it feel like home move away. Sometimes home gets painted a new color, or a piece of home is lost entirely. The reality, in any case, can never live up to that old idea we hold in our hearts.
For a while, home wasn’t just my house and my family, or my room on the second floor with the window facing east that let the sun light up my bed as it rose over the house next door. Home was also my desk, my computer, and the game I poured hundreds of hours into year after year: World of Warcraft.
The first weekend I came back home after being away at college for a couple months was the first time my house didn’t feel like my normal home. My parents got some new furniture in the back room by the deck, and things just felt different. I was treated more like a special guest than the staple resident I was used to being. It was still home, but it wasn’t exactly the home I remembered.
Everything was different
Three years earlier, in 2010, the World of Warcraft expansion Cataclysm came out. Not only did it add new areas to explore in the game, just like the past two expansions had, it was the developers’ opportunity to dig back into the old content and rework it. The titular cataclysm reshaped huge areas of the world that had remained mostly unchanged for six years. It was fun to see new takes on old territory, but it also upended that comfortable familiarity, so reliable for so long.
Before Cataclysm, World of Warcraft felt a bit like home to me. I could rely on it. I knew if I started a new character, I’d be seeing the same content I’d seen a few years ago. Or I could take an old character and re-explore some of those old locations for a hit of nostalgia.
Playing familiar games is my go-to method for injecting a little nostalgia into my veins. As much as the world around me changes, the games from my younger years stay the same. Revisiting them from time to time is a great way to transport myself back in time.
WoW was that, too, for a while, until Cataclysm. It was still fun, but so much of it just wasn’t the game I remembered. I’d put it down for a while and then pick it back up to see if it sparked that comforting feeling, only to put it back down again, dissatisfied.
Then World of Warcraft Classic launched on Aug. 26, a near-perfect recreation of the world of Azeroth as it existed back in 2004. I’ve been jumping back and forth between an undead mage and a tauren hunter, chatting with my brother and my friends about our progress, playing through the exact same scenarios I played through when I first started in WoW in 2005.
It feels like coming home again. At least for the most part. The mechanics feel right. Everything looks the way I remembered it. A bunch of the people I used to play with are playing again.
Live games like World of Warcraft are often concerned with making sure they push out enough new content and updates to keep players interested and invested. New things are great, but there’s something to be said about reliability. If you change the formula too much, a game can start to feel foreign to veteran players.
I was locked into World of Warcraft for five or six years. I started to wane on it during the Cataclysm expansion. I owe some of that to fact that my home had changed: When I logged in, I wasn’t met with the same familiar things I had been used to. Everything was different.
But WoW Classic took me back to those things that were branded into my brain years ago. Are there a few newer features that I miss? Sure. I was really fond of the achievement system that was introduced in the Wrath of the Lich King expansion in 2008, for example, which isn’t in Classic. But that’s fine, because I got my old home back.
My parents’ house, which I used to call my home, has changed. My brother and I moved out. Rooms have been altered. Our old dog Baxter, an adorable, food-stealing fixture of my family, passed away last year. I can’t go back to that home again.
But I can go to my other home, meticulously replicated with all of its preserved data. I can log on for an hour or five and re-experience those old memories, the only reminder that time has passed being the use of typed-out Twitch emotes and mentions of Donald Trump in the infamous general chat in the desert zone known as The Barrens.