Burning Crusade’s Outland shows all the hallmarks of being a playground for developers to flex and try new things. I always was amused at how each of the zones feature a strong color theme and logically fit together only so much as a little kid might try to force-merge non-matching puzzle pieces. Plus, you have the first iterations of designing zones for both flyers and non-flyers alike, which went through an awkward phase.
There’s also a specific flow to every player’s journey through Outland that’s a whole lot more guided and linear than what came before in vanilla. It’s why Burning Crusade imprinted on the entire WoW culture: because we all had that moment of awe going through the Dark Portal for the first time and seeing that bizarre alien sky. We all walked down the same paths and shared the same experiences with little variation.
After that path led through the broken up blasted landscape of Hellfire Peninsula (which was really Blasted Lands yanked out of the earth and crumpled a bit), we all entered Zangarmarsh — and saw how creative and playful the devs could get.
I’m probably not alone in my general distaste for MMO swamps and bogs. They tend to be ugly, depressing places that are annoying to traverse and a reminder of how much I hate getting eaten by mosquitoes in real life. Very, very few of them stand out in any notable way or make an effort to be fun, but Zangarmarsh is one of those exceptions.
Outland can be divided between “ugly” zones (Hellfire Peninsula, Blade’s Edge Mountains, Netherstorm, and Shadowmoon Valley) and “pretty” areas (Zangarmarsh, Terokkar Forest, and Nagrand). There is some ugliness in the pretty zones and vice-versa, but generally, that’s how it lies. And looking at the names alone before I ever got into this expansion, I wouldn’t have assumed that something with the word “marsh” in it would be a candidate for beauty.
Yet Zangarmarsh is undeniably an attractive zone, although it might not be to everyone’s tastes. Its recipe is shockingly simple: blue, rain, and mushrooms. Weirdly enough, that’s all it took to overcome years of unattractive swamps.
When you come into Zangarmarsh from the harsh glare of Hellfire’s apocalyptic landscape, it’s like being dipped into a cool stream after being out in a hot summer’s day. The tonal shift is so sudden and so extreme that it shouldn’t work… but it does. It’s a relief. It’s the expansion telling you, “It’s not all going to be Fel Reavers and fireballs and thorns. So come, relax, and refresh your questing outlook.”
Zangarmarsh is the perfect zone in which to chill. If you’re like me, there’s nothing quite as cozy and relaxing as a day with a steady rainfall that makes you feel happy to be inside engaging in quiet tasks and hobbies. I get that same feeling from the cool blues and pitter-patter of falling showers in this zone.
Nothing here screams “URGENT!” or “HURRY UP!” It’s as if the game itself is giving you permission to slow down, unwind, and go at your own pace. Sure, there are a lot of tasks to do and plenty of fights to be had. There’s a few dungeons waiting at the bottom of a lake. But that’s all set against a backdrop of giant alien mushrooms and delightful rain showers.
It also helps that this is a low-level (for Burning Crusade) zone that’s not particularly challenging or tricky to navigate. It’s a rare zone in WoW that lets you make a beeline for your objective without having to go up, down, or around terrain obstacles.
Probably my greatest memory of Zangarmarsh from the original release was spending hours and hours in here trying to farm that stupid firefly pet. No, I never got it, but I never grew so frustrated that I quit, either. I think this was largely thanks to the fact that this zone’s environment made for such a perfect place to go farm something without feeling on edge.
So here’s to you, Zang, for being as chill as you are. While many people are trying to blast through you as fast as possible to reach endgame, I’m more than happy to spend several hours strolling through your shallow waters and admiring the local flora and fauna.