Shattered Memories

I started writing this on the eve of the release of Cataclysm, not too long after “The Shattering” has given Azeroth’s zones a face-lift. Some of these “classic” WoW zones have seen more drastic changes than others but all of them have at least seen minor changes and quest line overhauls. I planned on doing a few different articles about pre-shattered Azeroth but I procrastinated a bit too long and none of them really panned out. Instead of focusing in detail about any specific zone or change, inspired by two excellent podcasts I’ve been listening to recently (Postcards from the Old World and Warcraft Less Traveled) I thought it might be fun to briefly give my impressions about ALL of the old world zones my first character, still my main today, leveled through. Some of these early zones I also ran in beta, just to clear up some potential discrepancies.

The logon screen from beta, advertising a place you can't go until you buy the first expansion!
“The logon screen from beta, advertising a place you can’t go until you buy the first expansion!”

Durotar was where my young Orc started his adventure and I’ve started here many other times on various other servers since. I always enjoyed ransacking Tiragarde Keep as slaughtering Alliance humans in a building straight out of Warcraft 3 after almost nothing but wildlife save a few trolls and centaurs always felt like a welcome progression to me. Cleaning out the cultists in Skull Rock, leading up to the eventual visit to Ragefire Chasm was a staple as well. Going after Fizzle Darkstorm in Thunder Ridge always felt like a challenging mini-adventure each time I leveled through the zone – I don’t recall having too much trouble with him as a Rogue but other classes I leveled here with had to come up with more inventive techniques without the benefit of stealth.

When I finally got to The Barrens it felt like the world finally opened up. This quickly turned from a positive to a negative as I ran all over the place questing. The Barrens has an infamous reputation for that so no need to dwell on that topic. That said I always enjoy the Crossroads and Ratchet and the zone had some decent quests as well. The Wailing Caverns was the first REAL dungeon I ran and I’ve still got a slight but undeniable soft spot for it. So called “Barrens Chat” wasn’t quite as out of hand in the beginning as it eventually ended up being but I feel like it deserves a mention as well. Quest wise, raiding Northwatch Hold and Bael Modan were some of my favorites, along with the Sludge Fens area.

I eventually ran through Mulgore to get to Thunderbluff, as quests demanded, and I always thought it was a beautiful zone. I didn’t have a Tauren for quite a while later so I never really leveled there back then but now I can say that it almost felt like a mini-Barrens to me – lots of open space, and running around therein to complete quests. Not a huge fan, but not bad. Thankfully the post-Shattering revamp has streamlined these quests a little bit and overall the zone retains its feel without being quite as painful – it feels like you’re out quicker to boot.

I ended up in Tirisfall Glades to visit the Undercity at some point as well. The main attraction here was eventually the Scarlet Monastery and much later, the entrance into the Western Plaguelands of course. I ran into Silverpine Forest a few times as well to help a few friends and the like. I always hated the long, narrow feel of the zone despite its cool aesthetic. I recall bumping into a Son of Arugal once when I was much higher level and being surprised when it started kicking my ass. I remember running Shadowfang Keep a couple of times back then with guildies and being intimidated by the fact that it felt like a real dungeon, even more so than the Wailing Caverns, and being a bit worried that I’d screw something up since I hadn’t done many instances or grouped much period.

Back to Kalimdor, I went from The Barrens to Stone Talon Mountains around the same time as other guildmates. Stone Talon had a fairly deserted feeling, much as it does today, with few people questing there. I really dug Windshear Crag at the time. I also remember helping a buddy complete the grindy feeling kill quests in the Charred Vale. Each time I’ve visited it since it has felt just the same – maybe a bit easier than before, but still very, very similar to the early days of classic. I’m quite curious about how much this place has been changed but I haven’t made it back here yet.

After that I distinctly remember heading directly into Desolace and spending a good amount of time there. I think a lot of my guildies must have headed elsewhere, because at first I was pretty much alone in the zone. Soon, as I began to wrap up in the southern Centaur areas (AKA “noob’s first rep grind”) they began to join me, and I had my first PVP experience. I did mention I was on a PVP server, didn’t I? During the centaur rep grind we started to see red names talking to some of the NPCs. It was only a matter of time before someone attacked – I don’t recall if it was them or us, but that doesn’t really matter in the end. This was, of course, only the first of hundreds of such PVP sessions but it was memorable and fun. World PVP really makes you appreciate being a rogue, I must say. Some of my favorite Desolace memories include the Naga quests on and around Ranazjar Isle as well as exploring the well hidden Shadowbreak Ravine back before it was populated with mobs or even had a name assigned to it.

I’m sure I visited Hillsbrand Foothills and the Alterac Mountains a few times around this time, speaking of PVP. I didn’t do much leveling here but the area around Tarren Mill was always such a hot bed for world PVP (AKA “ganking”) it was always an interesting place to visit. I also have fond memories of sloshing through the river, searching for and stealthing into Ravenholdt, and yeti hunting in the mountains. I would occasionally revisit Tarren Mill when exceedingly bored to PVP – even though I was a rogue I rarely ganked people without provocation but once you were on my hit list I would be fairly merciless. I’d fly in and stand just outside the town limits waiting for the almost inevitable Alliance player to come along and gank some seemingly innocent quester as they entered or left the town. I liked to play Sheriff and Tarren Mill definitely felt like a frontier town.

Back west, Ashenvale was a zone I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with. It’s a beautiful zone and is probably about the best place to experience Night Elf flavor as a member of the Horde. That said, on the Horde side the long, boring run (or flight) from West the East and vice versa and the long travel times involved in some of the quests made this place one I wasn’t too eager to return to. Now that this area has been “shattered” and lives up to its name a bit better, this may be vastly improved now.

The Kodo Graveyard in Desolace.
“The Kodo Graveyard in Desolace.”

I ran back down south to Thousand Needles, a zone I had eagerly wanted to visit, tantalized by The Great Lift in the south of the Barrens. Not one of my favorite zones to quest in, but definitely unique and beautiful in its own way. The Shimmering Flats was a cool subzone despite its boring “kill x mobs” “collect x items” quests. It should be noted that I totally skipped Dustwallow Marsh though there wasn’t a whole lot of content there for the Horde at the time anyway. That was a zone that was vastly improved even before the Shattering.

I did run through the Deadwind Pass and visited the Swamp of Sorrows, however. I went there initially to grind for whelplings at Itharius’s Cave. I never did get a whelpling pet to drop but I grinded out an entire level or two here, and when I later came back to quest I already knew much of the zone rather well – definitely one that I have a soft spot for. I can’t wait to come back here to see how it has changed. While I’m in the area, I never did quest in The Blasted Lands. It was an intimidating area with few quests for the Horde… and I was very intimidated by the Dark Portal. It was sort of the icon of high level content – hell, it was our log in screen back then. In fact I never REALLY explored the zone until after Burning Crusade launched!

As most people did in classic, I spent way too long in Stranglethorne Vale. It felt like you could spend 10 levels or more questing in STV. It was also an insane hotbed for world PVP action. I recall being ganked there many, many times, as well as occasionally returning the favor. Naturally, Booty Bay was always an fun town to hang around because of this. My favorite areas of old STV were probably the northern Troll ruins and the southern Pirate camps.

Speaking of places with neutral cities and a ton of PVP, Tanaris was one of the most important zones in my main’s classic leveling career. I remember hitting what I perceived to be a lull in content at around the time I was questing in Tanaris and ended up spending several levels grinding pirates in and around Lost Rigger Cove. I claimed much of the main camp there and would chase off any Alliance who came to do more than their few quests, or who tried to interrupt me. There was a chest spawn that I became a master of tracking which eventually became the source of my first blue world drop. I also visited Feralas at some point but I don’t have much to say about it. I remember doing the robot chicken escort quest here 50 times, and I remember grinding for Golden Pearls in the naga cave on the Isle of Dread, but nothing too major stands out. The whole Isle of Dread no longer exists post-Shattering, interestingly enough.

I went on a brief visit to the Badlands, from one desert to another. There wasn’t a ton of quests here but it was worth the visit in my leveling treadmill. The main memory that sticks out in my mind is scanning the horizons for red names – it seemed like you could see enemy players for miles in a lot of the areas here, which means as a rogue I could make myself scarce rather easily… whether to avoid conflict or to setup my own ambush. I only briefly visited Searing Gorge and didn’t quest in Burning Steppes at all. Both zones seemed extremely uninviting and with only small quest hubs, didn’t seem worth the risk. It definitely did seem like a risk too… flying over the Burning Steppes and watching Volchan, an elite giant stomping around, was one of my first glimpses at the zone. It wasn’t until I later visited Blackrock Mountain that I came back to the area. I never really ran any of the Blackrock instances in classic, though I recall a failed expedition to infiltrate Blackrock Depths with 4 other rogues at some point to look for a specific drop for a guildmate of mine.

I also stopped back up north briefly, questing in The Hinterlands. Just as it is today, it was fairly empty back then, and just as it is today, Skulk Rock was a great place to farm for Ghost Mushrooms. (Yes, my main is a herbalist/alchemist.)

Un’Gore Crater was a zone I spent a fair amount of time in. I’m sure everyone remembers their first few encounters with the Devilsaur. I loved all of the wacky references here and I think I still have Linken’s Boomerang in my bank somewhere. There was a fair amount of ganking here at and around quest areas but I seem to recall being more worried about all of the dinosaurs and the damn Silithid in the area than other players. Speaking of Silithids, I never did, and even to this day still haven’t ever quested in Silithus. Back in the day it was rather barren, and I simply didn’t want to visit another damn desert zone. It was eventually improved more and more and I’d guess is now a worthwhile destination these days, provided you don’t have any kind of insect phobias of course.

Azshara was next, I believe. Cool zone. It was pretty empty at the time. Another guildy was here with me and I recall showing him the stranded crew of the Horizon Scout and their quests. The southern forest around the Ruined Reaches was one of my favorite wooded zones in the game for atmosphere alone. I was also always fascinated by Azshara Tower. A wizard tower high on a mountain that you can only get to via teleportation? Sign me up! This zone got radically, and I mean RADICALLY overhauled with Catacylsm and is intended to be the Goblin equivalent to the Barrens, level wise now.

Moving into Felwood and running through to Winterspring was a bit of an adventure at the time, and Winterspring was a zone that I hung around in for quite a while, grinding on Highborne spirits around Lake Kel Theril as well as in the various caves is a distinct memory that I retain from my main’s 50s. I’d probably rank Winterspring up there as one of my favorite classic zones at the time.

Finally, I headed over to the Western Plaguelands. Running around in the farms and the Ruins of Andorhal was a lot of fun. This was another time in which I both hooked up with some other guildies as well as spent a lot of time ducking and/or starting PVP. When I finally headed over to the Eastern Plaguelands PVP seemed even more encouraged thanks to the towers system and questing at/around the shared camp of Light’s Hope Chapel. Corin’s Crossing was real creepy and stuck with me and the northern area, Plaguewood, filled with its Ziggurats, was straight out of Warcraft 3. I eventually hit 60 by grinding on High Elves at the Quel’Lithien lodge of all things.

That’s my brief tour of the old world. Hope it brought up some memories for some of you who were there and raised a few questions from the (many) World of Warcraft players who joined well after classic.

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