For a long time players have suggested and discussed the idea of Legacy realms, from Vanilla to Wrath of the Lich King. However the answer is usually negative as is it would take too many resources to re-construct an accurate representation of the old expansions that meets Blizzard’s quality standarts.
With that said, we have seen concepts like time-walking introduced into the game, with a reasonably positive response. What if instead of 100% Vanilla or TBC servers we could have an entire “Timewalking Expansion”?
Let’s imagine a “Vanilla Timewalking Realm”. It would be just like any other normal realm (WoD), but with 60 as the max level and with gameplay slightly rebalanced to more accurately represent Vanilla gameplay (slower XP gains, more mob hp & damage, etc), and with “spirit”-breaking features blocked (WoW tokens,Heirlooms, LFD, LFR). Other more-recent features would be fine imo (Dual spec, Group Finder, Achievements, Dungeon Journal, shop mounts/pets).
“Legacy” realms without Legacy code
So instead of having to bring legacy code up to date, most of the work would be in configuring these realms to lock/unlock specific content on demand (or have achievement requirements to do certain things), have different level caps and some locked/disabled features, and scaling down the skill learning and power (learn all abilities in 1-60 instead of in 1-100).
They would allow players to have a different gameplay experience, closer to what it was back then, without the same big development investment legacy realms would require.
Timing and Population
To reduce the population segmentation effect, they could make these realms seasonal, and even only have 1 xpac out at a time. This would also allow them to not “steal” players from current content, as they could unlock more content on these realms only during content droughts or at least a couple months after a big patch is released, while increasing the ammount of playable/interesting content available even during big droughts between patches/expansions.
To keep “timewalking realm” players on the same content, it could have a staggered unlocking of content. So a Vanilla initial season would start at level 1, go up to 60, and only have the initial raids open at first (or would require you to complete raid #1 before being able to enter raid #2 if emulating the release/unlocking of content patches is too much work), while a TBC initial season could have players start at level 60, go up to 70, and start only with the initial dungeons and raids open.
Purpose and Rewards
The purpose would be mostly just to make old content more valuable, adding some replayability especially to those who never tried the expansions when they were current, or even for old players that might want to experience them again, but it could also introduce some cross-character vanity/cosmetic rewards for achieving certain goals in these realms, such as clearing all raids, collecting a certain ammount of gold, having a certain ammount of reputations raised, anything that results from the player dedicating some time to progress their characters on those realms – feat of strenght achievements, titles or xpac-related transmog sets (maybe sets that are no longer obtainable by normal means?) are candidates.
Of course there are challenges to make this work. For once, it will never be *exactly* like what it was back then – Classes are different, talents are completly different, some content has been replaced by newer version – But still it could offer an interesting experience for many palyers, if not by the fact that it becomes interesting/rewarding content.
One of the biggest long-term challenges would be the scaling, because as new class changes come and go, including big class-redesigns in new xpacs, it would be offset. However, it’s possible this could be worked around simply by applying multipliers to damage & health of all enemies – which again possibly wouldn’t result in a well ballanced experience (thus me not mentioning PvP), nor a 100% accurate to the original, but still an interesting one.
In the end it will only be viable if there’s enough interest to justify the investment, and if this could work or not only the devs would know