Since before the launch of Classic, people have been all up and down the Internet complaining about retail. Most of the complaint seems to focus around minor changes or systems that have nothing to do with the modern game. What's become more than obvious is this: most Classic players haven't played retail in years.
If you ask a typical Classic player why retail is bad, they'll usually give you some generic answer about one of these: dungeon finder, quality of life features, or Blizzard catering to the playerbase too much (whatever that means). Those are the complaints you see because most of the people on Classic quit somewhere between WotLK and MOP. They have no idea what features the game currently has, what the state of it is, or what makes it bad. Nor do they seem to be able to remember what actually changed in WotLK or Cata, nor the major direction change that happened around that time.
Very often, you see the idea that Retail went bad because of Blizzard listening to the players. That sentiment is bullcrap. What actually happened is the opposite.
What actually went wrong with Retail:
- Cash shop: yes, the Classic community actually gets this one right. Blizzard making their money off of the cash shop and similar means that players aren't equal. Instead, they need to cater to those players who spend the most money on the game. That means that their focus as a company moves from developing content that's fun for everyone to developing content that rewards people who pay extra for it. Nobody ever asked for this, but it makes money for Blizzard.
- Habituation / treadmills: around the time of Cata, almost all content became locked behind dailies or weeklies, and Blizzard started heavily controlling the rate at which players could progress. This is convenient for Blizzard since they can control the rate at which players experience the content, and their business side believes that getting players to login every day will create a habit in the players similar to getting your morning coffee. The problem is that people don't have time to login every day. This drove a lot of players away. Nobody ever asked for this.
- Borrowed Power Systems: in short, Blizzard added systems to each expansion that would control your playstyle over the course of an expansion. Maybe it was as simple as an item or two, or maybe it was a weapon that would actually give you new abilities. Regardless, these borrowed power systems controlled how you played your spec and were integral to class balance. Then each system would be thrown right in the trash at the start of each new expansion. The most obvious case was artifact weapons in Legion being something you built and traited out for the entire expansion, vastly impacting your playstyle, only for the whole system to be ditched in Battle for Azeroth, your weapons depowered, your character nerfed, and the system replaced with Azerite traits. Players have come to hate these, yet Blizzard keeps putting them in.
- Control: because of Blizzard's focus on new power systems, throwing everything out the window every new expansion, and trying to get players into the new treadmills every expansion, they basically force you to play the game a certain way. Players no longer have any control over their playstyle – Blizzard figures that out for you. If you don't login every day, if you don't want to progress a new borrowed power system, if you don't use the cash shop, then there's not much in the game for you to do at all, and Blizzard probably doesn't want you there.
- Class balance: yes, really. You may be thinking that Vanilla and TBC had some wonky class balance, but you have no idea if you haven't played retail since WotLK. Not long after Cata, Blizzard largely stopped caring about everything except endgame content. That meant that if you actually tried to level a character as a new player, some classes were far ahead of others in terms of power. For example, Feral Druids during MoP could kill mobs in seconds during the leveling phase of MoP while monks struggled about as much as Vanilla classes did during the leveling phase. Blizzard didn't care. And they cared less and less as time went on.
- The gutting of classes: several classes have completely lost abilities that used to be core to the class. This started with Cata with certain abilities being locked behind your specialization. Specializations were basically just a way to take the existing talent systems and lock players into one specific tree, then have certain abilities only be given to you if you used that tree. But it got worse and worse over time, with abilities sometimes being tied to borrowed power systems, and has resulted in entire abilities being stripped from the players. It's gotten so bad now that picking a warrior specialization determines the weapons you can equip.
- Too many systems to manage: between borrowed power, talents, specializations, glyphs, professions, and all of the other crap they've added over time, it's become more than obvious that Blizzard's dev team have too much on their plates when it comes to trying to actually flesh out and balance everything. That's why they keep dropping systems, removing core abilities from classes, and so on.
Most of retail's problems can be summed up with just three overarching themes:
- Blizzard making changes and adding systems that nobody likes: cash shop, habituation, new treadmill power system mechanics every expansion, etc.
- Blizzard trying to control the way you play
- Content becoming bloated and unmanageable due to every expansion trying to reinvent the game
TLDR: Retail went bad because of Blizzard doing things that nobody likes and nobody asked for. It had nothing to do with quality of life enhancements, dungeon finder, raid finder, dual spec, or any of the minor changes made over time.
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