Posted by Nicholas Montegriffo @NicholasM
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Nicholas Montegriffo

World of Warcraft is one of gaming's biggest success stories, captivating millions of players for over a decade and still going strong with Legion, the latest expansion released this Summer. The game has changed significantly since it launched in 2004, so what did the world of Azeroth look like back then?

Providing a glimpse into the early development of WoW, these images were recently posted online by Blizzard employee Dave Wilson and even show the game in its pre-release alpha state. These artefacts paint a picture of the legendary MMORPG in its gestation period - primitive, raw, fascinating.

Nice Pants

WoW leg equipment includes chausses, trousers, breeches, leggings, kilt, dungarees, loincloth, woollies, pants and britches, and various magical enchantments to enhance them with. Here you can see the infant WoW take its baby steps towards its first magic pants. Their stats seem pretty underwhelming though.


Longtime Blizzard fans who played through Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and its expansion The Frozen Throne will remember how the third game in the RTS series was infused with several RPG elements. A bonus 'Orc' campaign came with the expansion that used the WC3 engine but ramped up the RPG elements, focusing on a small group of heroes led by Rexxar the Beastmaster and featuring more developed leveling, hero abilities, and questing. The WC3 engine was legendarily versatile, and many unique games were created with it, so it makes sense that WoW development started to grow organically out of its predecessor.

The Legend of Malbourn

Pioneering hero Malbourn wanders the desolate town of Valguard, dragging his sword despondently through the ground, perhaps with some awareness that his world, or at least this incarnation of it, is doomed.

A younger model

In what looks to be a bizarre Victoria's Secret fashion show displaying the different ways to werk the color brown, I'm going to guess that the undead are the anaemic-looking couple front and centre. Undead had a long-running identity crisis in the Warcraft games, originally being a small contingent of the Horde faction, the main antagonists in WC3, and making their first step to becoming somewhat more relatable anti-heroes in Frozen Throne. Interesting how the female orc model looks much more humanlike than the simian-appearing male.

I feel pretty sorry for the dwarf in this picture. Everybody else might look quite blocky and ugly but at least they have faces. Maybe they were having some issues with beards?

D'you want axe? This lady certainly needs a better one.

Early testing scenarios led to some odd model combinations before the looks of the different factions were fully cemented.

Happy Birthday!

Here are a couple of milestone moments, including the first placement of a couple of iconic WoW characters.

Location, location, location

It's not just the characters that looked different in early WoW, the landscapes went through some radical changes too.

Scenery and objects survived, but many were moved from their original spot.

And some areas wouldn't have made it into the final game at all if it wasn't for some last minute hard graft. Thanks peons!

Surviving chat transcripts provide some insight into developer and QA tester attitudes as they refined their creation.

We can be grateful that Blizzard worked tirelessly to rework and polish their designs.

Many longtime fans express nostalgia for a more 'retro' WoW

But I think we can all appreciate the time and effort that went into getting the game off the ground, with new expansions keeping it fresh to this day.


Was WoW better back in the day, or have the expansions improved it?