There are no more secrets in World of Warcraft. The only thing left to do now is optimize.
Every Wednesday night for the past three months I've logged into World of Warcraft feeling incredibly excited and extremely anxious. As much as I hate to admit it, one of the few high-points of my week is sitting down at my computer at 9:00 pm once a week to play my silly little 15-year-old video game. And even though I've done this just about one thousand times before, I still log on for raid nights hoping that I don't fuck up and that I do a good job.
It's not that playing World of Warcraft, even the "hardest" endgame dungeons containing the most powerful items in the game is incredibly difficult. In fact, it's pretty easy.
It turns out after 15 years of collective player analysis of the game's mechanics all you need to do to be good at World of Warcraft is to watch a 20-minute YouTube video explaining your class's optimum gear setup and skill usage. We know so much about World of Warcraft and how it works at this point that most boss fights are trivial — fights that would have confounded guilds for weeks or even months in 2005 take about 30 seconds in 2020.
There are no more secrets left in World of Warcraft Classic. Last year (which feels like 10 years ago at this point) I argued that once players see and clear everything there is to do in Classic, they'll get bored and move onto something else. And yet here I am, eagerly showing up every Wednesday night to clear dungeons I've cleared hundreds of times before. Why? Because of something called "parsing."
In World of Warcraft every single action players and NPCs take is recorded into the Combat Log. Your Sinister Strike hits Razorgore for 748. Razorgore hits Dudeguy for 1175. Healsboi's Flash Heal heals Dudeguy for 1523. At the most basic level you can scroll back through the Combat Log to see where things went wrong — checking the tape to see exactly why your Warrior died when the Priest still had full mana, or how your mage managed to pull aggro on the boss.
The real power of the Combat Log, however, is that with an addon, you can use log data to power a real-time meter of damage and healing output. With a meter addon, boss fights in World of Warcraft are no longer binary win states, but complex inter-player competitions to do the most damage, or the most healing. It's no longer enough to just kill Razorgore, but now you want to kill Razorgore and get the top spot on the damage meters.
This isn't new. Damage and healing meters have been around basically since the release of World of Warcraft. But for a long time their appeal was largely ephemeral. You'd kill a boss, someone would post the damage and healing meter report in the chat, and you'd go "huh, cool I got 5th" and then move onto the next boss.
In 2013, one website changed all of this: Warcraftlogs. Instead of just comparing your performance to your fellow guildmates, Warcraftlogs takes your combat log data, and compares your performance to every single player in the world. In turn, Warcraftlogs gives you a percentile score for each boss encounter — your "parse" — and an overall ranking. Like items in Warcraft the percentiles are color-coded based on rarity: with most players looking to get at a minimum 80th percentile and above for purple "Epic" parses, 95th percentile and above for orange "Legendary" and the much-coveted pink 99th percentile parses. Warcraftlogs transformed raiding from competing with your friends to competing with the entire World of Warcraft player base.
The Horde capital city of Orgimmar, seconds before Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer drops.
There are no more secrets in World of Warcraft Classic, and so now the "challenge" comes from literally trying to be the best player on the planet. It's exciting to go into a boss fight knowing that your performance will be recorded and uploaded to a website that keeps a running record of every single boss fight you've ever done. What were once ephemeral moments now live in perpetuity, subject to endless analysis, critique and discussion. The following morning after a raid, it's nice to make some coffee and breakfast and pour through Warcraftlogs data instead of reading the intentert or doing any real paying work, so I can get marginally better at a 15-year-old video game.
In order to try and get my friends to understand, I've compared Warcraft logs to another website that collates and ranks impenetrable amounts of data: Strava. Boss fights in World of Warcraft are like segment leaderboards on Strava — both tell you exactly where you stack up amongst millions of others, and more accurately, just how far off the mark you are compared to some of the best on the planet. For example, I can tell you that as of this writing I am the 55,908th best Rogue in the world. The number is purple so I have to assume that this is halfway decent.
Parsing, however, is just a small part of why raiding is so anxiety-inducing for me. The real reason why I'm a ball of nervous energy over the course of 90 minutes is because of something else that's going to take minutes to explain: World buffs.
You see, in World of Warcraft, your character can obtain a number of positive spell effects, otherwise known as "buffs." Some of these are as simple as increasing your stamina or strength by a flat amount, while others can add passive healing or mana regeneration effects.
The most powerful of these "buffs" are known as "world buffs" — in that they are buffs you can only get out in the world and not from another player. On raid day, players run around the world trying to collect seven world buffs from four different locations — Moldar's Moxie, Slip'kik Savvy, Fengus' Ferocity, Songflower Serenade, Rallying Cry of the Dragonslayer, Warchief's Blessing and Spirit of Zandalar. These buffs are so good that if you manage to collect all seven, they can make your character at least twice as powerful. This, of course, means that if you want to parse high, getting world buffs is pretty much mandatory.
Of course, getting all seven isn't easy. The first three — Moldar's, Slipkik's and Fengus' — require you either to complete a "hard mode" of a specific dungeon, or just buy a cleared instance from someone. Songflower requires you to click on a specific flower in a specific zone within a 1-second window every 25 minutes. To get Rallying Cry and Warchief's you need to be in Orgrimmar within a 15 and 6-second window every 3 to 6 hours when someone turns in the head from Onyxia, Nefarian or Rend. And finally Spirit of Zalandar only goes out in Booty Bay and Yojamba Isle which is on the opposite continent from all the other world buffs.
Oh and these world buffs only last for 1-2 hours depending on the buff and they start to tick down the second you get them, so hopefully you've planned out a route to get all seven before raid time. Let us also not forget that if you die you lose all of them, so while you're out trying to buff up your character you'll need to somehow avoid players from the opposing faction who would love nothing more than to kill you and wipe out all your buffs — because there's nothing more satisfying than taking a huge shit on someone's hours of hard work and planning. That's the gamer's way.
A group of players huddled up around a Songflower, waiting for its buff.
In other words, getting world buffs is a huge pain in the ass, and it's arguably the only way to be "good" at raiding in World of Warcraft. There's nothing more satisfying than efficiently nabbing all the world buffs, making your way into the raid instance without getting hassled by Alliance, and then watching the biggest numbers you've ever seen pop up as raid bosses just completely melt to your fully-world-buffed raid.
There is of course, an entire Discourse over the use of world buffs. Some argue that they were never really used in the original version of the game, and thus amount to cheesing difficult raid encounters by virtue of everyone being far more powerful than the developers intended. Others argue over the increased amount of griefing around world buffs, whether more and more players going out of their way to dispel or kill others with full buffs is "part of the game" or just needlessly cruel. And there are others, like myself, who wish world buffs didn't exist, but feel compelled to get them anyway because they're there and they do make the game more "fun" to play insofar as it makes it feel like your character is absolutely yoked-out and ready to run through a brick wall.
As easy as it is to get caught up in parsing and, inevitably, arguments over World Buffs, it's undeniably a testament to the collective ingenuity of players that any of this exists at all. It's a speedrunning cliche at this point, but it's cool to see that even after 15 years, people are still pushing the boundaries of the original version of World of Warcraft.
Thanks for reading. Next time: War profiteering in World of Warcraft.