As World of Warcraft players prepare for the launch of the game's sixth expansion, Legion, I'm working my way through the previous five, beginning with our first trip to Outland in The Burning Crusade. It was so good nine years ago.
Rather than level up my shiny new Gnome Hunter instantly via the level 100 boost afforded folks who've purchased World of Warcraft: Legion, I decided to head for the level cap the old fashioned way, or at least today's equivalent of it.
I started playing World of Warcraft when it launched back in 2004. It took me months to get to level 60 with my first main, a Rogue who no longer exists. Today, levelling a character to 60 takes me about ten hours. It's a much shorter process, but between the ease of scoring a random dungeon group and the outstanding revamp of the old world that came in the Cataclysm expansion, it's a very entertaining 10 hours.
Blizzard has spent the past 12 years refining World of Warcraft mechanics, basically paving over the path to higher levels, making the ride as smooth as possible.
This was my everything in early 2007.
2007's Burning Crusade expansion pack happened between the game's initial release and the move towards a more streamlined experience. With Cataclysm's revamp of the original game world, it's the last remaining relic of a simpler time.
When Burning Crusade came out, stepping through the portal from Azeroth into Outland for the first time was a breathtaking experience. And entire alien planet stretched out before the player, ripe with potential and possibility. It was magical.
Oh, this again.
The visuals remain impressive. The experience however, is less "Oh wow!" and more "let's get this over with".
Blizzard was quest crazy in The Burning Crusade and they didn't care who they hurt. Here is a quest to go to a central location. There are quests sending you in four different directions across a massive zone with no way to get there but your ground-based mount and the Num Lock key.
It wasn't so bad back then. Each new quest took us somewhere new to see something we'd never seen before, even if those somethings and somewheres were on completely different sides of the map. With no post level 70 content on the horizon, players like me took our time, soaked it all in.
And while I wanted nothing more than to spend levels 60 through 70 in the dungeon finder, I decided I was going to quest my way through Outland part one, visiting every zone until I ran out of quests or hit level 70.
I made it through two zones and change.
By the time I entered Zangarmarsh, the second zone in Burning Crusade, I was level 64.
I could have just skipped it, moved on to one of the other zones, but I there's a special place in my heart for those fungus-covered lands. I do enjoy killing Naga and you're not a true World of Warcraft player until you've entered the Mire Hydra club.
Older players will remember hating everything about this quest forever.
I went through all of Zangarmarsh, scouting the zone as a crow, sifting through Man-Thing poop, gathering so many Unidentified Plant Parts that they were coming out my ears. By the time I completed all 52 quests to earn the accompanying achievement, I was on the cusp of level 67. It was time for what's still one of my top five World of Warcraft zones.
Nagrand, land of floating mountains, mystical sky lights and skybound waterfalls. It's like something from a Roger Dean album cover and it never ceases to take my breath away.
Now I want to listen to Yes.
Note that I am flying in the screenshot. When Burning Crusade originally came out, players couldn't purchase a flying mount until level 70 (though Druids are jerks and got fight form at 68.) I'm blaming the relaxed flight requirements on why I sped through the expansion so quickly this time around. When you don't have to ride slowly across kilometres of terrain to kill five demons, you're more apt to kill those five demons, instead of screwing off to another zone.
Between the ease of movement, dungeon finder bonuses (what, I had to play through some dungeons) and experience requirements per level today that are significantly lower than they were when Burning Crusade launched, my first ride through Outland was over in the blink of an eye. I only adventured in three zones. I never even went to Shattrath, the expansion's hub city.
It's strange. I went into The Burning Crusade last week dreading the experience and now I'm sad it was over so fast. The changes made to World of Warcraft since the first expansion have done these sprawling alien landscapes a great disservice. Maybe I'll go back once I've hit level 110, burn through some more of those Legions, or just spend a lovely day hanging out in the grassy fields of Nagrand.
Next weekend: The Frozen Throne!
Or Wrath of the Lich King. We'll buddy up Cataclysm and Pandalandia and round things out with a farewell to the garrisons of Outland II: This Time It's Outlandier.