WoW Factor: World of Warcraft’s most underused zones in Classic

    
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But a new flavor of goat.

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.

Welcome to the death of reason.

Deadwind Pass

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.

As pretty as it gets now.

Azshara

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.

Sorry, this bit of skyline is the best I've got.

Mount Hyjal

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.

Beneath tormented skies.

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.

It's tempting to say this is the fault of the Cataclysm, but it always looked like this.

Alterac Mountains

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 eliot@massivelyop.com. 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.

War never changes, but World of Warcraft does, with a decade of history and a huge footprint in the MMORPG industry. Join Eliot Lefebvre each week for a new installment of WoW Factor as he examines the enormous MMO, how it interacts with the larger world of online gaming, and what’s new in the worlds of Azeroth and Draenor.

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Weilan

I was yesterday in Alterac and Arathi in Vanilla.

Alterac feels like in the game is a lot smaller than what is in reality. Just look at the distance between that fortress and the other town. It’s a 30 second walk.

Between Goldshire and Stormwind is at least 2-3 minutes and it’s obscured by the trees so it adds a feeling of distance. The distance between Eastvale and Goldshire is even bigger, same with Darkshire and Raven Hill.

Alterac is jsut a joke.

Arathi feels like they had no idea what to do with it.

To this day I feel like I don’t even know what Deadwind Pass was even made for.

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Carebear

Some zones are better just be there for explore only! That way you create a fantasy around them. You love Deadwind Pass as i do and everytime i was to pass from there to go to swamp of sorrows or blasted land i had chillings…

But… if you put some dailies there to go every day and do or a material to gather from regularly, slowly it will lose its creepy and uniqueness and will become a regular zone.

Some stuff are better just exist, no need to create gameplay of everything imo.

smuggler-in-a-yt
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smuggler-in-a-yt

Awesome list! Blasted Lands always felt like such an empty place in pre-BC, as did Deadwind. Come to think of it, the thing that always struck me as most interesting about Vanilla WOW is how there were always nooks and crannies. I remember Feralas being an amazing combination of “can’t get through these mobs” to amazing elven ruins with nary a soul around. And there were always places like that. For a warrior who still had to bandage and eat/drink between pulls, it was a precious calm between encounters.

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Randy Savage

The only reason I ever played on a private server was because they brought Azshara Crater to life. Had me some good battles there.

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Greaterdivinity

The fact that they still haven’t done anything with the Karazan dungeon in Deadwind Pass (not the actual instance, but the old open world dungeon you used to be able to glitch into) continues to make me sad. Got in there a handful of times and it was so cool to think about what it would look like fully fleshed out and the kinds of encounters that could be created.

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Hravik

That dungeon area always gave me a strong EverQuest vibe.

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styopa

I guess I’d Hyjal’s a stretch, since you couldn’t really get there? I’d put for example Gilneas in that category as well.

For the vast majority of classic Silithus was also a big fat nothing zone too. (IMO it wasn’t much after it ‘became something’ either….)

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Bruno Brito

Blasted Lands is a farming spot for world buffs on Vanilla WoW, and some demon quests. Outside that, nothing. Azshara is pretty ill-used yeah. Can’t talk about Hyjal, it’s not a zone for questing. Deadwind always felt like a checkpoint of sorts for Kara, and since Kara is TBC, it’s another ill-used zone.

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Carebear

Azshra was my “endgame” fishing zone!

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Jaymes Buckman

What parts of the final Hyjal were missing for you? I’m wondering because I didn’t play “Warcraft III”, but I’m familiar with the lore.

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Ironwu

Deadwind Pass, for sure. About all I ever did during Classic was to pass through it on my way somewhere else. Hoard traversing Alliance zones to get to Swamp of Sorrows and beyond. :)

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Oleg Chebeneev

Those zones made perfect sense. At least Deadwind Pass and Blasted Lands. They were big part of backstory and they looked ingame exactly like you expect them to look according to lore. Not sure what Mount Hijal is even doing on the list since it didnt exist in classic as an actual zone.

Under such headline I rather see zones that were the least visited by players and then the list would be very different.