It is easy to forget just how massive the universe is that exists within Warcraft . I don’t just mean Azeroth, but Outland too, and the various places we’ve never even seen before and have only heard mention in passing (like Argus, the home of the Eredar), which all subsist in the same vast space. Legion, for instance, will take us into the unknown with actual accompanying spaceships, and I’m sure this is potentially only the beginning of the legacy that can and will stretch across multiple expansions for years to come.
With the release of the Warcraft Chronicles Volume One, which effectively defines once and for all the story of this Universe in one place, a whole new generation are about to begin World of Warcraft’s history lessons for the first time. Therefore, I thought this might not be a bad time to remind you of some notable moments in expansions past and how those story-lines still hold relevance for the future in our upcoming stay on the Broken Isles. This is the moment I ask you to stay a while and listen and that you don’t beat me about the head with that foam training sword thanks to the lame gag.
Illidan Stormrage and the Temple of Black
It was the part of the map that struck fear into your heart the moment you entered the original Shadowmoon Valley. It remains one of the most plot-driven sections of history in all the eleven years of Warcraft. The Black Temple pretty much set the standard for every raid instance that followed, not simply in terms of complexity but in detail. It was very difficult not to feel intimidated when you first entered, or indeed not get lost once inside. It’s still a must see for anyone who wants to understand why Draenor is the way it is right now, and the fact that Blizzard took Warlocks back there for their Green Fire quest should say a lot about how important it has become and undoubtedly remains for that class.
However, as a center for the Warcraft universe, the Black Temple ties past to present and beyond. With this being the last place we supposedly see Illidan alive, you would think this was the end of that, but it has now been established that actually death really is just a setback for anyone touched by the Legion. In the great comic book tradition of bad guys never dying and continuing to haunt you for decades after the fact, Stormrage has returned, but he is now perhaps not as evil as he once was. I can’t say any more (because LEGION SPOILERS) but needless to say if you’ve never soloed the Burning Crusade instance then now is the perfect time to go take a look. Trust me, it is worth your time, if only for the fact the instance has a fully working brothel. I kid you not.
Blood Elves and Trolls and Quest Hubs, OH MY
Once you’ve cleared the Temple you need to learn about the Island of Quel’Thalas, or as it was known at the time, the Island of Quel’Dailies. This was the development of Blizzard’s love/hate relationship with player defined gating of outdoor content, beginning with the War of the Shifting Sands (which is a whole blog post one day just on its own). This zone introduced a piece of Blood Elf law (the Sunwell) that frankly deserves a whole website simply devoted to it, and two paragraphs will never truly do it justice. This is also the first time we see an in-game cinematic (even if it is a basic precursor of the scenario technology that gets utilized later). Sadly, this whole zone now, as is often the case, has become a wasteland and historical curiosity combined. You should go there, however, and not just for the ambiance.
The place has become a quick and easy daily quest hub with a reputation title you can simply buy if you so desire. However, the rest of the experience is at least worth trying, and like the rep grinds with the Orcs in Shadowmoon, or the Ogres in Blades Edge, it gives more depth to the experience if you’re playing a Blood Elf. Running the Sunwell is also the only chance currently to own a Legendary item should you be of the Hunter persuasion, and I still go there in the hope that Thori’dal, the Stars’ Fury, might decide to drop.
Clash of the (Warcraft) Titans
Then, we get to Wrath, and World of Warcraft’s history lessons take on a whole new significance. Suddenly, the Old Gods we first met back in Silithus are back, and this time the very future of the planet is in jeopardy. Fortunately for us, however, the great Dwarven explorer Brann Bronzebeard is here to save the day with the assistance of four Titan watchers. However, players need to release them from the corrupting influence of Yogg Saron before they’re of any use, and once that happens there’s a whole new extra level of peril involved. It becomes apparent this isn’t just about destroying an evil presence…
Ulduar is my favorite raid instance for many reasons: mostly it’s because the place has, in my opinion, never been bettered for quality, variety and immersion. Its linear nature set the standard for most, if not all instances that followed it, plus the Hard Modes weren’t simply mentally hard, you actually needed to activate them in-game. No toggling a portrait here, if you wanted Thorim’s on Stupid Difficulty then you had to run his gauntlet in under three minutes, simple as that. I actually miss that kind of interactivity in current content, removed presumably to make things easier and convenient. The thing is, sometime awkward and hard is far more fun.
It’s the end of Warcraft as we know it and I FEEL FINE
World of Warcraft’s history lessons need to include a long section on Cataclysm, and how the designers made either the best move in the history of ever or ruined the game completely at this point. Cataclysm is like Marmite: you either love or hate it, and very little ambivalence exists for the Expansion even now. Redefining the 1-60 questing experience and remodeling vast swathes of terrain was, at least for me, a bitter-sweet trade off between losing stuff I loved and replacing it with stuff I still loved but in a different way. For some, however, it was too much, and they still don’t forgive the company for trashing zones they grew up in.
Ironically many ‘veteran’ players cite this point as where Blizzard began to dumb down the game to the point where Vanilla has become more preferable than the consistent erosion of abilities and encounters. Personally, I think there were mistakes made but not nearly as many as others choose to point out. If all you’ve ever seen is 1-60 leveling in this Expansion, for instance, I’d love a way to take you back in time, Hillsbrad Caverns of Time style, just to see what things looked like before. Blizzard hotfixed 1-60 content as recently as yesterday, presumably in anticipation of a mass arrival of players to the content via the Movie. They know there’s work to be done to improve this part of the game, and I’m interested to see where this path will lead us all.
Walking on the Pandarian Wall
Mists is an odd expansion, when all is said and done, mostly because it redefines a lot of the rules for history to begin with. Let us never forget that the Pandaran were an April Fool’s joke, despite the fact that Chen Stormstout was fairly instrumental in the founding of Durotan. A whole new facet of history was created just to introduce this race to both Horde and Alliance, plus the fact that for 10 levels it was possible to play faction free, an ability many of us would love to see extended beyond the Wandering Isle. There’s also no doubting that Pandaria itself is one of the most visually striking and complex areas that has ever been designed and created in 11 years. Going back there is always a breath of fresh air, and I doubt I will ever grow tired of flying around the place looking for stuff to fight or gather.
World of Warcraft’s history lessons teach us a very great deal in Mists, mostly the value of stopping and taking in our surroundings rather than simply rushing through content without a thought. It was also the first time we saw Blizzard use transmedia to tell the story of the continent’s foundation prior to the arrival of outsiders, and this amazing visual storytelling remains unparalleled in recent history. If you’ve not watched the The Burdens of Shaohao I strongly suggest you take the time to do so, as this set the trend for Draenor and, it must be said, the origins videos for Overwatch that have become so popular in the last few months.
It’s not just old books and uninteresting, stale content in Azeroth’s past. The place remains a living, breathing world after over a decade, and with a massive influx of new places expected on the back of the Movie release (it was premiered last night in France to currently mixed critical reviews) there is no time like the present. If you’re playing this game but don’t think about why you’re in Azeroth to begin with then these World of Warcraft history lessons are for you. Time to take a moment before Legion arrives to brush up on your key facts and do some much needed studying of a place that will change yet again once the Legion arrives, sometime in late June/July.
Don’t say we didn’t warn you.Related: Beta, Blizzard Entertainment, Column, MMORPG, World of Warcraft, WoW Wednesday