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WoW Wednesday: The Zones of Kul Tiras

The Battle for Azeroth has finally begun! Launching world-wide earlier this week, World of Warcraft’s 7th expansion has brought us to a world on the brink of war. Following right on the tail of the controversial War of Thorns and the short but sweet Battle for Lordaeron, the Horde and the Alliance now scramble to repair their devastated naval fleets and regain valuable allies for the war to come. As the Champion of your faction it’s up to you to unite long forgotten ties, quell ancient evils, and save the world itself…

Heart

“Tha Heart o’ Azeroth… It might be tha only wae ta save her!”

In preparation for your journeying in Azeroth over the next two weeks I’ll be bringing you zone summaries and reviews for the newest zones in the game not only to give you critical thoughts on the newest leveling content, but also to help you decide where to best spend your time as you level up in Kul Tiras and Zandalar.

 

Reader Beware: Spoilers Ahead!

This week we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the leveling experience for the Alliance, and their white-knuckle touring of the nation of Kul Tiras. Summoned first by Magni Bronzebeard, the Speaker for Azeroth, he beseeches you to help the dying world in a last effort to mend her devastated wound. Taking the very Heart of Azeroth itself, Magni entrusts you with its keeping; to infuse it with Azerite and one day return it so the world can finally be healed.

With the destruction of most of their naval forces at the hands of the Burning Legion, the Alliance already started this war off on a weak foot. Following the escape of two high-profile Zandalari prisoners, the Alliance found their fleet utterly destroyed by the naval wrath of the ancient Troll Nation. Now in desperate need of a powerful seafaring force, Jaina Proudmoore promises to bring Kul Tiras back into the fold of the Alliance and with them their armada of ships.

Kul Tiran Leaders

Lord Admiral Katherine Proudmoore and her adviser, Lady Priscilla Ashvane

Accompanied by the elite 7th Legion, Alliance players will sail with Lady Proudmoore to Boralus, the capital of Kul Tiras, in a desperate plea to join the Alliance. Rejected by her mother you are labelled as traitors and sentenced to Tol Dagor, a vile prison now run by House Ashvane and their leader, Priscilla Ashvane. While rotting in your own cell you’re rescued by the mysterious Flynn Fairwind, a roguish man of esteem employed by a mysterious benefactor. Staging your grand escape, your newest friend notices that the guards of the prison are using an incredibly potent and all too familiar material as blasting powder for their munitions.

Assured that this is a lead for revealing Lady Ashvane’s corruption, Flynn leads you on your way to freedom, boarding a small boat back to Boralus. En route you’re introduced to Taelia, a soldier of Kul Tiras and your benefactor, Sir Cyrus Crestfall. Together they plead for your aid in restoring the nation of Kul Tiras, now a land falling to pieces as calamity strikes their island home and the collapsing noble houses. Urged on by the 7th Legion, you must now also prepare to make landfall on the island of Zandalar and bring the war to the Zandalari lest the Horde gain an ally too powerful for the Alliance to overcome.

As you venture throughout the new continents in Battle For Azeroth, you’ll eventually gain access to both Kul Tiras and Zandalar. However, as the latter requires the smallest bit of work to unlock, we’ll first go over the three zones of Kul Tiras.

 

Tiragarde Sound

Freehold

Freehold, the City of Pirates

The seat of power for the Proudmoore dynasty and the capital region of Kul Tiras, Tiragarde Sound is a zone that invokes the true nature of this seabound continent. The area’s mountainous design and snow-capped peaks leave me with fond memories of the Grizzly Hills, one of the most beloved and beautiful zones from the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. While I played late into the night as I ventured through the Sound, the hills always drew my heart homeward as scattered quest hubs pull you deeper into the treacherous wilds. Music in beloved sea shanty styling (another fond favorite of mine) constantly chirp through the land, never leaving things too dreary or drab as you deal with unraveling the mysteries of the hills.

Assured that the Azerite Powder in Tol Dagar will lead them on a path to unseating the venomous adviser, Lady Ashvane, Flynn resolves that you must join him and investigate the region. It doesn’t take long to discover that not only has Ashvane been mining the powerful mineral under the very nose of her leader, but she’s been selling the weapons to deadly groups of pirates. While she forces the denizens of the Sound to work themselves to the bone, you and Flynn must discover the true intentions of Lady Ashvane’s production of Azerite Weapons and save Boralus from a rising tide of piracy.

Azerite

Azerite Powder coated weaponry. A deadly combination.

Tiragarde was the first zone I played in Kul Tiras and it is frankly the perfect introductory zone for Alliance players. On top of a beautiful debut to Kul Tirian lore and culture the story of the zone itself is wonderfully upbeat and well written, never staying too dark for long despite the treacherous terrain and creatures. Flynn Fairwind may in fact be one of my new favorite characters in Warcraft lore, never taking anything too seriously (even when his heart is broken by a Siren of the Sea). While questing can at times be a little linear and involve too much of the archetypal, “Kill Ten Dudes, Find Ten Claws,” mission-structure, NPC interactions kept me interested even as I was engaging pirates for the umpteenth time. The climax surges forward quite satisfyingly, culminating in a Pirate Siege on the region that feels as if the odds are truly against the island’s defenders.

Despite the compact zone design, side quests to Kennings Lodge and Southwind Station feel incredibly out of the way and off the beaten path even though the main questline is only mere minutes away. While Tiragarde is wonderfully diverse in its regional construction, the various mountain ranges do a better job of segregating content than visually breaking up the world design. This only adds to the feeling of distance in wandering off the beaten path, with very little reward overall.

 

Drustvar

Effify

One of the mysterious Wicker Effigies…

The land of Drustvar has grown eerily silent in passing days. House Waycrest, the ruling noble caste of the region, has retreated from the Noble Council of Kul Tiras. Mines have run dry of their ore, the land is withering beneath the farmer’s touch and many folk don’t return to their homes at night. Now the area is ripe with danger and darkness; something terrible lurks just behind the tree-line. Creepy is the best way to describe the first few moments of Drustvar, and I love very second of it. Not since my original Vanilla days of questing in Duskwood and Felwood have I felt such overwhelming feelings of dread, and it’s a fantastic change of pace for the World of Warcraft.

The unsettling tone continues throughout your adventures in Drustvar, as wicker men and ramshackle corpses spring back to life to attack the populace. Those not immediately in harms danger are bound in place by wicked curses or besieged by creatures from nightmares. This zone never stops being interesting and may in fact have the best story-line out of each of the Alliance questing areas. The atmosphere here is rich and thick with oppressive originality, from the eerie choir-filled music pitched with dirges and darker tones to the Gilneas-style design in the Crimson Forest and civilized settlements.

Wicker

Deadly Drust Warriors waging war on the local populace.

Where Drustvar sadly suffers, however, is its pacing. Much like Tiragarde Sound its side quests are slung helter-skelter and off the beaten path, making them feel like a chore to advance towards. So few are tied to the zone-wide quest achievement that I ignored almost 70% of them as they simply aren’t interesting. The main swing and uptick of the plot really doesn’t take place until almost a third of the way into Drustvar’s story, and even then THOSE side quests take entirely too long to refocus onto the point of the quest-line. The climax itself is utterly fantastic but getting to that particular point is utterly brutal, especially in comparison to the flowing ease of the zone prior.

Quest design here, much like Tiragarde, suffers too much from the, “Kill Ten of This,” syndrome. While it ties into the story and theme of the zone, there is very little variety overall. With a few vehicle quests sprinkled throughout, your Crusade in Drustvar will sadly be just that. Thankfully the myriad of characters you’ll engage with along the way, while not as intriguing or engaging as NPCs you’ll meet in the previous zone they do an incredible amount to uplift the story and keep the pace light from step to step.

 

Stormsong Valley

hanged

A Brother of the Tidespeakers, mourning for his murdered kin.

An anomaly in the mountainous Kul Tiras, Stormsong Valley is built more like a deep basin with the only land to the South and wide oceans on every other side. In pursuing answers about the missing Kul Tiran Fleet, ominous tidings come from Stormsong Valley. The monastic Tidespeakers, mysterious aquatic magi who not only bless but direct the very fleet of the island nation, have barred their doors to the outside world. House Stormsong, the ruling noble caste, have shut off every in-road to the Valley as their militia continues to subjugate the common citizens. Rebellion has begun in the ranks of the Tidespeakers as their leaders and missing noblemen prepare to summon something to wage war on the land of Kul Tiras itself.

Stormsong is a much-welcomed reprieve from the forests of Drustvar and the hilly Tirisgarde with its easy going terrain and land-bound questing. Unlike the pinwheel continental structure of Tirisgard with it’s central lake, or the verticality of Drustvar’s mountain, Stormsong is far easier to traverse and quest through, and as such visually flows much nicer. While it’s broken up by swelling landmasses and mountains, they don’t segregate or obnoxiously divide content as much as previous zones and feel much more contained.

Kraken

One of the monstrous Kul Tiran Kraken enjoying its latest spoils.

Questing itself feels more interwoven and active; while this story is perhaps the weakest of the three zones, there is far more diversity in action in Stormsong. The pace is never too slow, quickly identifying your antagonist and pushing into combating their forces within the first ten mainline quests. From there things only continue to escalate as you unravel the mysteries of the Tidespeakers and discover greater threats to the world.

Themeing in Stormsong very much ties back to House Greyjoy of Game of Thrones fame, with deep ties not only to mystical water magics (What is Dead May Never Die!), but mysticism and political intrigue buried into the very faith of the Tidespeakers. Fans of H.P. Lovecraft’s eldritch horror will heavily enjoy the endings of the quest-line as efforts to wrest control of the island nation only intensify and summon terrors from beneath the deep…

The War Effort

As you venture into Kul Tiras to reunite the nation’s noble houses the 7th Legion, headed by High Commander Halford Wyrmbane, are preparing to take the war to the Horde’s newest allies on the shores of Zandalar. After getting permission for their vessel to dock in Boralus, he will send you into the world to retrieve War Resources to supply the campaign. These resources can be used to upgrade your war effort, send champions of the Alliance out on missions in the field or otherwise engage the Horde in the same vein of the Garrison and Class Hall system of Warlords of Draenor and Legion.

One of the many Blood Temples in Nazmir, home to the fanatical Nizmiran Trolls…

Using these resources, your forces can now look at setting up invasion points across the Zandalari homeland. These zones are less full-fledged leveling content and more introductions to the shores beyond Kul Tiras, establishing the Alliance’s story points in each area. While the war is at your fingertips now, we’ll talk about the dangerous isle of Zandalar next week.

 

The Pride of Kul Tiras

The Noble Houses of Kul Tiras. From Left to Right: Stormsong, Proudmoure, Ashvane, and Waycrest.

New to Battle for Azeroth is the concept of Capstone Quests. These questlines will put together a final overarching story-line for the continent, tying up loose ends and answering questions left from the content players have engaged with. Kul Tiras, now relatively at peace, must prepare for war and set the affairs of House Proudmoore in order. But with enemies all around them, it’s only a matter of time before the foes you’ve faced prepare to strike once again. Lady Jaina Proudmoore still remains conscribed to her fate.

Overall, Kul Tiras is a strong opening zone for Battle for Azeroth. Making improvements on the multi-faceted questing routes of Legion, there really is no particular order to approach these zones in. Pacing for most of them keeps the energy of the story-line high throughout the leveling process and never really wears out its welcome. While time to capping 120 may be the longest it’s ever been, at just over 12 hours of constant playtime for the average player, the lore introduced, and the character explored have set Kul Tiras up to be one of the liveliest pieces of content for the World of Warcraft.

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About Phil DeMerchant

A young pundit of the Industry, Phil first fell in love with gaming through World of Warcraft and the 3D platformers of the Playstation Era. Honing his expertise over years of reporting, he now focuses on investigative work on appraising and evaluating industry practices.