It is time to begin the honest review of Classic Warcraft, starting with what became a badge of honour for those not raiding full time.
Let us recall the experience that was the Strat 45 (Baron) Run.
If you want an objective review of the place, there’s this old WoW Insider post to look at (from 2012) or a couple of (very poor quality) run-through videos on You Tube dated December 2006 (eleven years ago, Classic fans.) I start here because ‘killing the end boss in 45 minutes in a dungeon’ will not be a surprise to those of you familiar with the mechanics of Challenge Modes. It should also not be a concept lost on anyone now who’s completed their Class Order Hall, because in essence that was what this was too. The overriding reason for the Strat 45 run was a step in questing towards a tier set for those who didn’t raid.
Strat 45 was, at least in my mind, the first instance where player complaint changed the direction of the game.
Hard, as a benchmark for game difficulty, undoubtedly described the Baron run. You needed a stellar tank, but an even more competent healer. Maybe, just maybe if you had two shit hot DPS could you carry the third, but more often than not you’d fail when that happened. Learning what not to pull was easy, over time: muscle memory would kick in, and if you dragged enough people through as a Guildie, the correct placement and speed simply happened. It was the equivalent of learning MC Boss fights, but most crucially, nobody could go AFK, or turn up unprepared, or try and be Leeroy Jenkins. Yes, it was fucking hard for those who weren’t geared, but not nearly as problematic as the 5 man where someone wouldn’t play as part of the team.
PUG-ging 5 Man Strat became as close to actual torture as it was possible to get.
I remember running Strat solo before Cataclysm swept away the old version for good, knowing by heart where every chest could appear, ready to pick up every Eye of Naxxaramus as it spawned. Then was realisation that the loss of this place would be significant: not just for the original history that existed within the walls. Taking us back to the Culling of Stratholme in Wrath only served to heighten just how brilliant a design it was, but the scale and depth of the content would, inevitably, be the place’s undoing. The Baron Run served as a reminder that not everyone had hours on end to complete content, and the trend began to shorten experiences whilst trying to distil the essence of their creation into another form.
After that Timewalking came along and demonstrated people far prefer their past not to be changed.
Stratholme also showed, for the first time, the gulf of ability between those who raided and those who didn’t. It became a pseudo-Proving Ground for taking random people into who were unguilded before offering them a home. If you needed a gauge for how competent someone would be on an alt? As would be the case with the Shattered Halls or the Opening of the Dark Portal 5 man in TBC, Strat 45 was where to go. Certain unscrupulous Guild Masters would make this doubly difficult by sending in Officers on non-raid geared alts and get their lesser-performing Raid team members to carry them.
Being able to do Strat 45 became the first non-Raid brag in game, whilst characters wearing complete Tier 0.5 were always clogging up the mailbox space in Ironforge.
This was the Dungeon where consumables made or broke your progress, that learning to self heal was vital… and the list goes on for how there were so many ways for you to complete the timer with minutes to spare… if you did the work. This was the mantra that raiding guilds already told you to repeat ad infinitum, but the casual player considered was a waste of their time. You didin’t need all this stuff, you just found a random group and did the quest. If it was too difficult, you’d complain in Trade, and people did… but without social media to generate the indignation required? That was undoubtedly one of the best things about Vanilla. If someone complained, you just left the channel or went to quest instead.
That’s a part of the Old World I’d really like to have back for good.
When people remember the bad stuff about Classic content, they forget the brilliance that came when 5 people worked hard and cohesively together as a unit to beat a dungeon. My first successful Strat 45 run was more fun than any of the MC progress done before it, because it involved 4 other people who I know had as much fun as I did. All of us came prepared, and we beat the timer with time to spare, after a number of unsuccessful attempts, because even raid geared people needed to learn a routine and path that worked for them all. This dungeon, in essence, was the metaphor for Classic Warcraft: do the work, put in the hours, and you will be justly rewarded. Nobody cared about what was shit.
Everybody was there to get the job done and if you had a good time as a result? Bonus.