Every time a new expansion for World of Warcraft is announced or nearing release, I take a little time to read up on the new additions. I don’t even play the game anymore, but I like looking in and seeing where the masses of Azeroth are going to go next. The truth of the matter is that I gave up playing the game not long after Cataclysm, the previous expansion, was released. I didn’t even finish the content offered by it at launch, and I certainly never got around to doing any of the endgame content issued later. I never faced Deathwing. I never even made it to the Twilight Highlands. This doesn’t mean anything to anyone reading this who isn’t a Warcraft nerd, but in short, I became bored with it.
I played World of Warcraft on and off for a few years. I jumped in a little while after Burning Crusade, the first expansion had launched. I had no idea what was going on at the time. It was just fun to run around and hit things to see what happened. I got my first character to around level 45, and ended up getting sidetracked. I quit playing the game for a while as I had yet to really get an idea of what I was supposed to do. It was the first MMO I had ever played. I still didn’t really understand how this game was supposed to work. I just knew I was sharing a world with a lot of other people, some of which were my allies, and others who wanted me dead as soon as I walked into their territory.
I never had a lot of friends who played the game, so most of my in-game time was spent playing solo. When I came back to the game, I started a new character, a blood elf warlock, and I started the quest that I ended up sticking with for a good couple of years. At the time, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion was on the horizon, so I was trying to get this new character up to level 70 before it launched. When the Lich King expansion launched, I was right on the edge of the level cap. I quickly cleared through the remainder of the Burning Crusade questing content, and started on my quest to slay Arthas, the Lich King who sat upon the Frozen Throne.
At that point in time, the questing content from levels 1-70 had become boring and was built heavily on “Kill X Number of X” style quests. They were never that interesting, and most of the time I ended up just skipping the quest text, preferring to use my in-game mods to direct me to my quest objectives. It was a monotonous chore, but I pushed through it, and the experience was worth it. Blizzard made the questing a lot more enjoyable somehow. Sure, it was still more of the same, but the writing was a lot more self aware, and the pacing was much better. The main quest line in Wrath of the Lich King is one of the most exciting experiences I ever had in Azeroth. I did every quest I could find, and I explored every inch of the continent of Northrend. When I finished that, it put a new idea in my head.
I wanted to see the rest of the world… of Warcraft.
I spent a lot of gold upgrading my flying mounts so that I could fly around Outlands at a decent speed, but when it came to the old world of Azeroth, I was limited to the ground. Because of the way the old world was designed at that point, there were still portions on the map that were shut off from the public view. Certain chunks of the map weren’t actually in the game, and wouldn’t be until integrated until the next expansion. The only way to fly around the old world was by using the predetermined flight paths. It took forever to fly from one end of a continent to the other, so I decided to traverse the terrain using my horse, exploring every nook that the continents of Kalimdor and the Eastern Kingdoms had to offer.
Because of the existing progression of the game, the old world was sparsely populated save for the big cities. I was at the level cap, so old world wild creatures weren’t a real concern. I could move about the world at my own leisure. I was set on my quest to navigate the locations that no one really frequented anymore. No one really spent time in the glaciers of Winterspring anymore, and the dunes of Silithus were empty and vacant. I wanted to see all of them. I found myself going to places that few players ever saw anymore.
I remember one moment in particular where I swam out to an island off the coast of the jungles of Feralas. The island existed as part of a quest line that no longer mattered. I found myself wandering this island thinking how unlikely it was that anyone had been there in a long while. I found quest related creatures on that island that were never hunted anymore. For all I know, the griffons that flew around that small island had been undisturbed for months. Because of this, they thrived. I know that they existed only as digital data, but here, they were alive. They existed on this island, and I decided to leave them be. I left the small island, never to return. I had seen all there was to see there. When the Cataclysm happened, the island sank into the sea. Since the quest was no longer in the game, the creatures that existed there no longer had a purpose, and the island was forever lost.
My quest to see the world took a rather formulaic route. I went up and down one continent, and then worked my way to the other. I had explored the western continent of Kalimdor on and off over the course of a few days, and then I had set my sights on the mostly unexplored continents of the Eastern Kingdoms. While most of the Kalimdor region was open fields and small settlements, the Eastern Kingdoms were more populated, and were the locations of major cities for both Horde and Alliance players. I had to be considerably more careful this time around.
Having played through Warcraft III, the experience I had exploring the Western and Eastern Plaguelands had been really enjoyable and disheartening. Both zones were the decaying remains of what had in a previous time been the kingdom of Lordaeron. Aside from a few outposts here and there that acted as quest hubs, the zones were also fairly vacant, which added a real sense of loneliness to them. The soil and plant life there was dying. The animals were mutated and the whole zone felt without hope. The decay had mostly been confined to these zones, though the NPCs that inhabited the region worried that it might spread further.
I felt genuinely upset as I rode through these locations. I was never into the idea of role playing my character, but internally I had a set idea of how my character would act. My blood elf warlock never had much to say, and while he preferred to work alone, he was hell bent on trying to restore some level of order to Azeroth. Because of all of the horrible things that had happened to this region, Blizzard had managed to make me care about the people that used to live here, and I always hoped that somehow the region could be somehow cured of its ailments. I wanted to see these lands thrive again. My character wanted to see this region live once more.
I moved further south on what had become my primary quest, working my way through each zone as I had done numerous times before. Eventually I found myself riding through a barren passage through the mountains. Everything here was an ashy gray, and there were no points of civilization in the area. I would either have to keep going through to the Swamp of Sorrows, or I could turn back and make my way back to the Alliance held lands of Duskwood. The area I was riding through was referred to as Deadwind Pass. I worked my way down the southern path to a giant tower that could barely be seen in the distance.
The tower was called Karazhan.
I knew of the wicked tower. It was a raid instance that I had been through a time before, and I was familiar with the lore behind it. I knew it was the reason why the zone itself was as dead as it was. I knew the rumors behind it, of the hidden crypts that presumably lay below it, never to be seen by the eyes of the living. The area referred to as Lower Karazhan was never implemented into the game, and still remains locked away to this day. The dungeon itself was launched with the Burning Crusade expansion and was an early end game raid for level 70 characters. The thing that really got to me though, was that the tower itself had been in the game since day one.
This was a big deal to me. I found it exciting to think about how the game was at launch, when few had reached the level 60 cap and had the means to really explore their surroundings. I imagined all these characters walking by this tower, wondering what secrets laid within and having no real explanation. As I continued to explore the world around me, I still continued to think about the tower of Karazhan. It was a really stunning moment that I never really had again with the game. From my character’s point of view, I loved to think of it as this shady, forgotten tower where few would dare to tread. By the time I was really exploring the area, it had become just like that: a vacant, forgotten memory.
That is what made me love the game. I adored that attention to detail, that willingness to have locations like that that weren’t accessible, but did exist, if only to make the players wonder what it was for. I never found myself having that feeling about an MMO ever again, and I eventually quit playing World of Warcraft after the magic went away. I can’t ever go back now, as the memories I left with are far better than the actual time spent playing the game. Despite this, I do still enjoy thinking about the time I spent there, riding across the continents on horseback. I was Wyatt and Billy in Easy Rider.
I will fondly remember the time I spent in Azeroth.