No, I’m still not done with thinking about the game’s zones and how they relate to Classic. Because while I’ve already covered the zones that changed the most, that does not completely overlap with the list of stuff that just wasn’t used very well when World of Warcraft launched. In some cases, it wasn’t even used very well ever.
It’s important to talk a little bit by what that means, since the base game was full of stuff that, well, didn’t exactly go anywhere. This, in the original game, was not precisely a problem; Blizzard was (wisely) hedging its bets by producing lots of loose ends that could later be tied into whatever. But the vast majority of zones might have had a weird sub-zone or two without lots of explanation, but they still made sense. There were, for example, bits of Desolace without much explanation (the Dead Goliaths were used as a landmark without being further elaborated upon), but overall you had a sense of what the zone was and what was going on.
And then… you have these zones.
Oh gosh. Look, you need to understand how much I love Deadwind Pass, or more accurately the promise of what Deadwind Pass suggested when I first roamed into it. And to do that, I’m going to talk about the movie The Neverending Story.
When I watched the movie as a kid, I was fascinated. (Enough to read the full book a couple years later, which was very different but also excellent.) One of the most fascinating parts of it to me was the menace of the film, the Nothing. Just like it sounds, the Nothing has no personality or demeanor, no meaning, no agency; it simply is, leeching and demolishing substance and meaning until all that remains is void.
Later media would provide even more images of this sort of stark horror, and it’s always really striking to me. It’s a powerful aesthetic. Grey walls and grey floors. Empty spaces with fragments of half-remembered decorations. Stagnant, cold air. Instead of demonic corruption, it’s the slow and steady erosion of anything that means something to other human beings, a land not simply dead but devoid of the ability to mean anything.
That’s what Deadwind Pass suggested. And it’s a wonderful image. In a game already full of demons and cthonic horrors and dragons and plenty of hard-edged threats to existence, Deadwind Pass is a dead place without the celebration of the undead. It’s the sort of place that feels like if you stay there long enough, your character should slowly lose color, and name, and identity, eventually fading into the same bland nothing as the air.
Nothing useful has ever been done with this.
It’s entirely possible that this is not even close to the fault of the developers; I would believe that it was just an accidental bit of visual theme, and all it was ever meant to be was a waystation for Karazhan. But boy, every time I run through here I’m reminded of the way it lit my imagination on fire. There’s so much to be done there with a locale that bleeds the meaning from everything contained therein, a different angle from the violent atavism of demonic forces or the slobbering madness of the Old Gods. And the fact that it’s never been used for much beyond “the place where Karazhan is” feels like a shame.
Obviously, in Cataclysm this zone did get used. I’m not entirely a fan of how it did get used, mostly because I would have rather seen the goblin aesthetic be applied to a zone that didn’t feel half-finished, but from an economical standpoint it makes sense. It saves development time, after all, and Azshara as a zone was kind of the poster child for “almost.”
Yes, I’m talking about Azshara Crater, which got delayed due to Alterac Valley having balance issues that took half of forever to get right. It was also home to very few quest lines, and most of the few quests it did have never went anywhere. So making use of it by having the Goblins strip-mine it into oblivion honestly made a lot of sense.
Still, though, it was a neat zone, and it had a lovely aesthetic.
Does this one count? I’m counting it because while the zone got used in Cataclysm, it was very different from the zone that was in the game from launch. Hyjal, much like Karazhan, felt like it was something originally planned for an earlier inclusion, and its eventual appearance was less “what we always planned” and more “well, we have this space we can repurpose.”
Of course, since it was never properly accessible, Hyjal wasn’t ever actually used for anything, but in some ways I’ve always felt like its eventual use marks a break between the original version of WoW and the version we have now. The current zone bears no real resemblance to the one hinted at and explored by intrepid map-jumpers, having lost the stuff that made Mount Hyjal a memorable locale from Warcraft III. Ah, well; woolgathering.
The Blasted Lands
It’s not that there was quite nothing to do in the Blasted Lands, but there sure as heck wasn’t much, and that always felt weird. The Dark Portal was sitting right there, but no one seemed eager or even willing to talk about it, even as Nethergarde Keep kept its largely passive vigil over the portal. It would, I feel, have been a great zone to start things for the game’s first expansion.
I mean… sure, that did happen, but there was nothing leading up to it. One day the zone was suddenly “hey, push back these demons.” Bit of a sudden swerve from fighting the Scourge up north.
A few quests brought you here. Alterac Valley is (technically) here. And yet the Alterac Mountains were always half-used, which again strikes me as a shame because this also has a lot of historical resonance. Stuff happened here. Alterac was actually a key portion of Onyxia’s plot to worm her way into Stormwind’s government! And yet it just got melted away and forgotten, with the Syndicate turning into fifth-tier punching bags and being forgotten.
Part of me had hoped for a long time that this was a temporary thing, but that ship sailed ages ago and had a few holes put in its hull for good measure when the zone got melted into Hillsbrad. Alas, the legacy of the traitors to the Alliance will never be more deeply explored. It’s another break point from the past, where the game leaned hard into magical fights, demons, and grand sweeping battles against high lords of darkness instead of fundamentally human politics that happened to feature elves and magic.
At least Dalaran’s crater is still a happening place.
Feedback, like always, is welcome in the comments below or via mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. My apologies that some of these screencaps aren’t great; it’s hard to find spots that communicate the original essence of the regions when you consider that several of them have changed now. If you’ve got some old captures, share ’em in the comments.