Nostalrius Begins: It is good.

Posted: May 21, 2015 by ryanlecocq in Features

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I think that is the most blunt title I have ever used for an article.  The reason for that is that if you only see the title of this article in a sidebar on another blog, I want that to lodge in your mind.  Nostalrius Begins, most likely the largest scale private WoW server yet, is a lot of fun to play and I highly recommend it.  On the one hand, I feel a little bad jumping on the bandwagon of journalists promoting Nostalrius.  I myself heard about it when another blogger sent me this manic message being like “You must play this!  Just read my article man, you’ll see!”  So I did and I did and then I made an account and downloaded that shit immediately.  Then I did the same for several other people and now here I am writing my own article.  The problem with this is that we are going to break this poor server.  Nostalrius Begins has a startlingly large budget and staff for a private server, but there is still only one main server.  A WoW server can only support about 10k simultaneous players and we are now hitting that nightly.  Once you play though, you’ll understand.  Allow me to explain.

If you are familiar with World of Warcraft, you are probably aware that there have been significant changes to not only the gameplay, but the actual world and the storylines within over the patches and expansions.  Several versions, such as 1.4, The Burning Crusade and Cataclysm, are notorious for streamlining, shrinking or removing content from the original release.  The primary reason for this is to make the level 1-60 content faster and easier, to funnel players towards the newest endgame content.  Here’s the rub: Many longtime players feel that the original release content and gameplay style was the most fun and newer versions have been inferior.  While some of this can just be chalked up to nostalgia and the rose tinted glasses of memory, there is actually some logic to back it up.  For starters, most of the people responsible for the design of the original game started leaving Blizzard beginning with the huge exodus that became Flagship Studious right when TBC came out.  I’m not completely versed on the details, but long story short they didn’t like the changes either.

The huge schism happened when WoW’s third expansion, Cataclysm came out.  Cataclysm completely replaced the original map with an altered, shrunk and streamlined version that also updated the plot to then current progression.  At first it was intriguing, but very quickly we started to realize that it was a soulless EXP funnel, just designed to get us to the new content in several days instead of the months that defined many of our MMO memories.  The new Azeroth was filled with references to pop culture and characters whose names were parodies of celebrities.  It was kind of fun in a way, but it completely destroyed the immersion and feeling that this was a world in and of itself.  Many of us just walked away completely.

Fortunately for us though, the creators of Nostalrius Begins did not go quietly into that sweet night.  They spent the past 5 years making the most faithful, Blizzlike and stable private WoW server I have ever seen (and I’ve played on a lot, even worked on a few).  The problem with private servers is that the only way to make it mostly legal is to create your own world database.  The world database is everything that happens on the server.  While your client holds all the assets (the world, NPCs, objects etc.), the gameplay is held on the server.  So what this means is that only Blizzard has the AI routines of how the NPCs walk around and where quest objectives appear and things like that.  If you tried to steal this, Blizzard would probably catch you and that would be the end of your server.  So what most private servers do is use an emulator that is homemade to mimic Blizzard’s database.  The way you do this is by watching the game run and then try to mimic its behavior.  This is why most private servers suck.  Quest NPCs will walk up mountainsides because the pathfinding is crap and things will spawn behind walls.  Nostalrius begins is actually superior to the official 1.12.1 database.  By this I mean it functions perfectly and in several areas is better designed, avoiding bugs that existed in original Vanilla WoW.  You read that correctly, the engineers of Nostalrius actually built a better running WoW server than Blizzard did in 2004.  Sure, they’ve had years to learn from Blizzard’s mistakes, but that is still incredible by itself.

All that technical background aside, it’s a ton of fun.  If you started playing WoW in recent years and have heard players talking about how different it used to be, you will immediately realize how right they were.  Vanilla WoW was a very immersive experience.  The world was huge and progression was slow.  You would spend longer in each area, so you end up exploring everything and finding more of the hidden bonuses.  You have time to do things like craft.  Every stat matters, it isn’t nearly so simple as focusing on your main stat and a resource stat.  Every little edge makes a difference, you won’t be getting piles of gold and blue items at low level, so every armor kit and sharpening stone you can craft is a must.  Overall it’s just more immersive and more like an RPG vs. feeling more and more like a MOBA.  Vanilla WoW was and now is all about the experience.  You made friends at meeting stones that became guildmates and longtime companions, rather than just jumping in with a bunch of randoms you don’t even want to chat with.  It’s pretty hard to play on Nostalrius for any length of time without getting caught up in the community.  Public chat is often hilarious and you will actually meet more decent people than scum.  It’s like a dream.

There are a few things you should know about Nostalrius Begins.  First of all, like many private servers it is a PVP server.  This means opposing faction players can kill you in public spaces.  The reason for this is a little thing WoW used to have called world PVP.  Battlegrounds are just an attempt to recreate the total madness that once existed when large groups of players had a conflict of interest in public zones.  This often involved access to a dungeon or just a contested zone that people decided mattered to them that week.  It also used to be a big deal to sack the enemy capital.  These days players will just fly in and assassinate the faction leaders for the achievements.  In the days before flying mounts, it was some serious business.  You would get word that a Horde umm… horde was invading Goldshire and it would be like “Oh shit, it has begun.”  The enemy faction would have to go through, district by district fighting toward the faction leaders and killing every enemy player and NPC in the way.  It usually took hundreds of players and would sometimes take hours.

I haven’t seen this yet in Nostalrius, but I’ve been told it’s happened a few times so far.  What I have seen is enemy players doing things like raiding a quest hub or relatively large conflicts in contested areas.  What this means in your day to day is that you may encounter enemy players trying to assassinate you when out and about.  This can be frustrating if you have only played on PVE servers, but it honestly doesn’t happen often and can add a little spice to your leveling.  Just keep in mind that traditionally in WoW, the factions were at war.  There’s no teaming up with opposing players for some quests or races like the Pandaren that can choose a side.  There are also things that are faction exclusive, from the Paladin and Shaman classes to mounts and gear.  Finally, keep in mind that there is no dungeon finder, so doing dungeons in opposed territories is no joke as you will have to sneak or fight your way there.

What really sets Nostalrius Begins apart from other private servers is not the game version.  There are many 1.12.1 private servers and I there have been for years.  What’s different about this one is the community.  Somehow this was the perfect storm of nostalgic ex-players wanting to relive the experience and people who arrived late and felt they missed the best part.  We all come together to create an environment of helpful and fun players who will usually interact with you for the benefit of all.  There are lots of people leveling at every range, so you can find companions no matter what you are doing.  There are of course a few trolls and just complete idiots, but for the most part they are the minority and other players will call them out on it.  Nostalrius is not a place that you go to be a jerk, at least unless you are a masochist jerk who wants people to shut you down.

There’s also the benefit of meeting gaming celebrities everywhere you go.  You have your small fish like me, the Carrot Tops of game journalism, who have a couple hundred loyal readers and bring a few people to the server.  There are like hundreds of us blogging about it.  Then you have your big name streamers and journalists and their mighty groupie herds who follow them around the server (although actually streaming private servers is borderline illegal and highly discouraged).  So be prepared to get some lag when *insert famous streamer* cruises through the zone with their entourage of noisy followers.  Yup, Nostalrius is kind of a big deal right now in gaming culture.  The scientist in me wants to do a study, with such a brilliant sample of gaming culture on hand.

 

Honestly I could babble about how much fun this is all day.  I’m seriously conflicted writing about it at all, because I feel like I’m doing the server a disservice.  Not only for the aforementioned server population issue, but because until now, Blizzard has turned a very lazy blind eye on Nostalrius Begins.  It’s widely known that Blizzard has a sort of “handshake agreement” with private servers that as long as they use fully emulated code and don’t modify game clients or charge a fee, they will not be prosecuted.  Only when servers have attempted to monetize or used code blatantly stolen from Blizzard in their server emulator has there been any sort of legal action.  What it really comes down to is that these servers cost Blizzard nothing.  Until now most of them ran like total crap, so there was that.  None of them were ever popular enough or big enough in the media to make even a drop in the pond.  This server however, is filling up fast and making top posts on many gaming sites.  If it is viewed as enough of a public outcry for the classic content, Blizzard will inevitably do what I have been bemoaning the lack of for years; release Vanilla WoW as a mobile f2p.  Once Blizzard was distributing that content again, you can bet they would suddenly crack down on Vanilla servers under some pretense to eliminate the competition.  Unless the game was truly free to play (without IAP) and Vanilla WoW was released as freeware.  If they choose to respond like that, I will upload a video to YouTube of me rising from my chair in whatever I am wearing when I read it, and slow clapping.

If any of the above paranoia is founded, even more reason to try this out while it exists.  Wouldn’t want to miss the boat twice.

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