It’s uncanny how much World of Warcraft Classic continues to feel like a wormhole to a bygone era of gaming. I was certain that the magic of WoW Classic’s 2019 launch couldn’t be repeated, but I was wrong. After a few hours of grinding out quests, I joined a random group of strangers to take on one of the new dungeons available in Burning Crusade Classic. What should’ve been a 20-minute run ended up cascading into a four-hour marathon. When I finally slumped into bed at 3 am, I didn’t just have some sweet new loot for my undead Warlock, but a whole new guild of friends to play alongside.
That’s the enduring black magic of World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic. It’s a crucible of soul-crushing grinding and unforgiving combat that smashes players together like atoms, sparking chain reactions that forge new friendships with impressive regularity. But sustaining those ongoing reactions requires an unfathomable sacrifice of time and energy that makes my heart yearn for the years when I was a teenager with all the time in the world. Burning Crusade Classic is awesome, but you’ll have to give up a significant chunk of your life to experience all of it.
Through the Dark Portal
Need to know
What is it? A set of servers that recreate World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade in 2007.
Expect to pay: $15/month (included for free in a regular WoW subscription)
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
Reviewed on: i7-7700, Nvidia RTX 2070, 16 GB RAM
When I first reviewed WoW Classic in 2019, much of what made it an easy game to recommend was how accessible it was. For just the price of a monthly subscription fee, anyone could start a new character and be transported back to the dawn of Blizzard’s foundational MMO. Old Warcraft vets finally got what they’d wanted, while brand-new players could take a virtual tour through one of the most important chapters in PC gaming history. It was an experience that anyone could take something from, regardless of how much time they sunk into it.
Not so with Burning Crusade Classic. To even explore the seven new zones, you’ll need a level 58 character that will take casual players months of questing to get. Or you can pay $35 for a ridiculously overpriced, one-time level boost that supplies you with trash-tier equipment and a pittance of gold that’ll barely help you survive your first few quests in Outlands. I’m not opposed to Blizzard charging for a shortcut, but this feels like paying top-dollar for a historical tour of Rome and then being handed a crumpled up MapQuest printout and a travel-sized bottle of cheap sunscreen.
It sucks that these daunting entry requirements will inevitably turn so many people away because Burning Crusade Classic is special. It’s the moment where World of Warcraft was beginning to transform from a messy experiment into a pop-culture phenomenon that enthralled over a hundred million people, with features and ideas that shaped not just WoW’s future, but the entire genre.
After years stuck grinding away in Azeroth, players were thrust through the Dark Portal and into a landscape that felt outrageously impressive for its time. For the most part, Burning Crusade Classic is a faithful recreation of that era—though Blizzard did make more changes based on the community feedback. The big surprise, though, is that so far my foray into Outlands has been shockingly smooth aside from quest zones being too populated (which is expected on launch week). Unlike WoW Classic’s launch, where most people sat staring at hours-long queues, I’ve been playing without interruption.
It’s fun to return to this antiquated version of Warcraft and discover so many facets that have remained timeless and fun—and commiserate about those that aren’t. Seeing that colossal Fel Reaver stomping across the blood-red fields of Hellfire Peninsula, murdering any player who ventures too close, is still cool as hell. But I could definitely do without waiting five minutes for a specific monster to respawn because someone killed it seconds before I got there.
Outlands is the first time Blizzard’s imagination really ran wild in Warcraft, and the result is a spectacular mix of fantasy and science fiction. Enormous steampunk drainpumps heave and chug amid giant blue mushrooms in Zangarmarsh, while a giant moon wreathed in magical wisps hangs over the pastoral hills of Nagrand. It reminds me a lot of The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind—an engrossing and alien landscape that hasn’t spoiled with time.
Slow and steady
Stopping to smell Outland’s neon blue flowers is a natural consequence of just how slow Burning Crusade Classic moves. Its new level cap of 70 will take most level 60 players about as long to reach as it took them to get to level 60 (around 50 hours or so). It’s a grind that can often be demoralizing, as I hand in yet another quest and watch my experience bar jump forward a pixel or two. This languid pace will butcher the resolve of anyone used to more modern MMOs where leveling is just the free bread you pick at before your meal arrives.
Those who can adapt to this now-ancient approach to MMOs will find a lot to enjoy, though. The sense of danger that permeates each zone is mesmerizing because I’m only ever truly safe when I’m in a village surrounded by NPC guards. Monsters are manageable in very small numbers, but it’s easy to accidentally draw the ire of too many and have to flee for my life. It means I always have to stay engaged and aware, which deepens my connection to the world around me. That’s a big difference from modern WoW, where questing is so effortlessly easy it feels downright meaningless. In Burning Crusade Classic, I feel like I’m one small part of a much bigger, more hostile world.
Burning Crusade Classic takes nothing for granted and makes even the smallest achievements feel monumental. There’s a reason why nearby players stop to congratulate me when I level up, or when a piece of gear drops in a dungeon my party chatters excitedly if it’s a big upgrade for one player.
This isn’t a game you play, it’s an ordeal you overcome—one that binds players together through adversity and pain. Kids born of the Dark Souls generation telling one another to “git gud” seem cute by comparison. Try enduring another five-minute run back to your corpse because Fen Rays in The Underbog feared your tank straight into two other groups of monsters for the fifth time. Zug zug, bitches.
This take-it-or-leave-it challenge makes a lot of modern MMOs feel too needy and clingy in comparison. Daily login bonuses, time-gated progression, effortless leveling, and a thousand other little hooks scratch at me in a desperate attempt to catch my interest, but Burning Crusade Classic flips the script: I have to earn my place in Outlands—either through sheer patience, skill, or with friends. It’s no wonder so many millions of gamers were obsessed with it: the confidence Burning Crusade has in itself as a journey worth enduring is audacious.
But although Burning Crusade Classic’s grind can be brutal, there are a lot of improvements that make it more palatable than WoW Classic. Quests still rely heavily on killing every living thing in Outlands multiple times, but they’re interwoven with narrative beats that help convey the story of each individual zone. Quest hubs are better organized and less haphazard, meaning less time is wasted running back and forth. And while WoW Classic’s endgame was inconsistent, Burning Crusade refines it into something a lot more digestible and structured. Gone are the 40-person raids of Classic, now replaced with 10-person raids like Karazhan or, at most, 25-person raids like Black Temple.
Exp for the grind god
If you’ve ever lamented modern WoW’s endgame, play Burning Crusade Classic for a bit. It’s mind-boggling how enormous it is. Once players reach level 70, they have 15 dungeons that each have a heroic-difficulty version that has to be unlocked by grinding reputation with certain factions. Meanwhile, any aspiring raiders have to complete sprawling questlines called “attunements” before they can ever set foot in that raid. There’s so much to do—including saving up enough gold to buy a flying mount—that back when Burning Crusade’s first major patch came out and added even more stuff, very few players were even ready for it. Nowadays new WoW patches feel like Blizzard chucking loafs of bread into a starving crowd.
The downside is that Burning Crusade is an expansion designed specifically for WoW’s most hardcore players and does little to cater to a more casual crowd. Outside of running dungeons or raids, most players will be grinding monsters or repeatable quests for small increments of faction reputation needed to unlock the next step in their attunements. Later patches will roll out some nice catch-up features, like better access to gear and a new zone, but anyone who is serious about playing Burning Crusade Classic has to make peace with the fact that at least a few hundred hours will be spent doing completing repetitive quests or killing the same few monsters again and again. God help you if you ever decide to play a different class and have to start your entire journey from level one.
Nowadays grinding has become a dirty word in games, but in Burning Crusade Classic it was a badge of honor. And even though I’ve had moments where I’ve felt frustrated or bored—even to the point of quitting—my patience is reset every time I have a cool encounter with another player. It’s not very often that I play an MMO where complete strangers routinely find a place on my friends list. Twice now I’ve sat with another player waiting for a quest objective to respawn and been drawn into a conversation that led to us joining forces for a few hours. These moments feel as special as they did over a decade ago.
World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade Classic is badass and uncompromising—more than WoW Classic ever was. Most of you can safely give this a pass and enjoy all the extra time you’ll have for other games, friends, family, and hobbies. But for WoW Classic’s large and devoted community, this is World of Warcraft beginning its transformation into the MMO that took over the world.