The Nostalrius team has thrown down the gauntlet and the Nostalrius vanilla World of Warcraft experience will return - with or without Blizzard's help or permission. But not in name; Nostalrius cannot be Nostalrius for legal reasons, so it will be resurrected as part of the unofficial WoW Elysium project. The Nostalrius database, with saved character data, may even be carried across. There's no timeline but the suggestion is that work will start straight away.
Time for a recap.
Earlier this year Blizzard's lawyers shut down a very popular but unofficial World of Warcraft server cluster called Nostalrius. They were pirate/private servers and against the rules, so fair enough, case closed - right? Not exactly. Because not only did Nostalrius have a huge community suddenly up in arms, those people had something of a leg to stand on. They wanted to play World of Warcraft as it was back near launch in 2004/2005, pre-expansions, pre-extra this and extra that, and Nostalrius offered them that. More to the point, Blizzard did not.
So with Nostalrius' closure came a wave of momentum for Blizzard offering legacy World of Warcraft servers, as they're known, because if these volunteer Nostalrius guys can do it why can't a huge team like Blizzard? So the popular (somewhat naive) argument went.
Blizzard heard. Moreover, Blizzard did something unprecedented in response: invited the Nostalrius team to Blizzard HQ to talk about it. And to talk about it with the CEO Mike Morhaime, executive producer J. Allen Brack, game directors Tom Chilton and Ion Hazzikostas, and more. Like, wow.
The meeting went well and the Nostalrius team was encouraged. After all, why would Blizzard go to all this trouble if not to finally get the ball rolling on legacy WOW servers?
Everything looked set up for a November BlizzCon announcement. The Blizzard HQ meeting was in June, which allowed a few months' thinking time before the event, and BlizzCon panels provide the place to go into real depth about plans for the company's games, World of Warcraft of course included. The Nostalrius team even sold BlizzCon-themed t-shirts to its community.
But BlizzCon 2016 has just ended and nothing was announced.
We had expected this to a degree. Blizzard had said prior to BlizzCon 2016 it wasn't going to announce anything WoW legacy-related at the event. "We won't have any updates to share on that until after the show," read a relayed message from exec producer J. Allen Brack on the WoW forums. But when I contacted the Nostalrius team for their reaction, I was put off with 'no comment' until BlizzCon 2016 had been and gone, which suggested the Nostalrius team knew or was expecting something.
Whatever the Nostalrius team may have been expecting, didn't happen, because yesterday the gauntlet was thrown and the Nostalrius team broke its silence in an open letter. Here are excerpts:
"Ever since our first official contact with Blizzard, we have had such high expectations ... our primary goal was to convince them with our experiences that now is the ideal time to merge back the legacy community.
"After the meeting with Blizzard, we continued to reach out regarding the issues they raised in order to help them as much as possible and to speed up the process of an official release. Trust us, we were ready to work like hell on that, even more than before in order to help WoW team. But we never received any response to these questions, even after 4 months.
"BlizzCon got closer by month after month, then week after week, and all the while we had a constant flow of messages from the community solidly supporting the idea of legacy servers. So we decided to take the risk of challenging Blizzard regarding Legacy servers and lighting the flame of hope for one final burst.
"We should not forget that Blizzard is the owner of World of Warcraft and would be for sure the most able to restore it. Until they disclose a schedule (if they do), the Legacy community will have to assume there will not be an official Blizzard release of Legacy WoW - possibly for very long time.
"So, it's time for us to release our source code and additional tools to the community in the hope that it will maintain the Legacy community as much as possible until Blizzard announces an official Legacy plan - should they decide to do that. Once this work has been done, source code and documentation will be release to the public.
"We worked hard for the last 6 years on this project, even if most of you only experienced it for just one year ... We know that it may be difficult to understand our motivation: spending all this time for a passion on a volunteer basis. Maybe it is heresy. But for us, if you're good at something, it's your duty to give back one way or another.
"It was a great journey, you are an amazing community, and we believe that stories which started with Nostalrius have not come to an end!
It's a provocative statement, and what's to say Blizzard won't simply close Elysium down as it has Nostalrius?
What's also to say Blizzard isn't exploring legacy World of Warcraft servers? J. Allen Brack only said "we won't have any updates to share on that until after the show", not that Blizzard wasn't doing it. And we are now officially "after the show".
Then again, is it likely Blizzard will make any announcements so soon after its annual BlizzCon extravaganza? Perhaps Blizzard is simply trying to put a window of time between WoW expansion Legion launching, and the content patches that follow, and talking legacy. Who knows? Chris Bratt asked lead game designer Matt Goss at BlizzCon, who responded:
"I don't have an update at this time. I can say we're still in discussions we have but there's nothing to share yet. It has not been settled, yeah. It's something we talk about lots."
I guess we'll wait and see. In the meantime, World of Warcraft is ticking along nicely thanks to Legion, which is very good. Wrote Oli in his World of Warcraft: Legion not-review: "From a certain perspective, WOW's remorseless progress has killed the very genre that it dominated for so long. That's sad. But that same progress has left us with a game that can now add unparalleled longevity to its long list of unique achievements; a game that isn't just an all-time great, but that is great in the here and now."