Six years ago to the month, World of Warcraft released its very first expansion pack. At the time I was a year away from becoming a blogger, still living in my old apartment, and enjoying my first year with my wife. Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time passes, how these things that happened *years* ago feel like yesterday.
I was getting nostalgic for WoW lately, not enough to make me want to play it, but nostalgic in the sense of “I miss the old days, not what the game is now even though I know it’s technically better.” WoW at the turn of The Burning Crusade felt like an incredible, magical time for the game. It had become established as the premier MMO with a massive following, and I had just hit level 60 with my new Gnome Warlock who I had named Syp. When we heard the news that there would be an expansion, everyone went bananas. I mean, the game had never had one before. We really didn’t know what to expect. And we’d been slowly going stir-crazy in the same zones for over two years at that point.
There was a big to do at the portal gate in Azeroth prior to the expansion, and players such as myself who participated were treated to a tabard that shot out sparks every minute or so. A cool little doodad. Then came the night of the release. It was one of the only — and the very last — times that I ever went to a store for a midnight release to get my copy. My wife thought I was nuts. I probably was. It was cold, being January in Michigan, and I had to stand in a line outside with a whole bunch of strangers who made me profoundly uncomfortable. As soon as I snagged my copy, I rushed hope to install it and make my new characters.
I was reading something on WoW Insider not too long ago where the author was bashing TBC as not that great of an expansion in retrospect, which I guess was his opinion and okay. But he did say something that rang true, which is that whatever expansion WoW players first encountered seemed like it became the expansion that defined their experience and memories of the game. I was probably more of a vanilla WoW player than anything, but TBC definitely left a huge impression on me.
Going through the dark portal to Outland for that first time was… incredible. I took many, many screenshots. Outland was so alien of a place, but it was new and exciting. Up to that point in WoW history, the quest flow of the old world wasn’t the best, especially in the higher levels, but Outland featured a much more refined hub-quest model that provided enough XP and kept things moving. Within a day, we all replaced our old gear with new (“green is the new purple” was the catchphrase of the time). A bazillion people were in the first Outland zone, which made questing difficult (but not impossible).
I alternated with Syp and a brand-new blueberry space alien hunter named Ghostfire. Those new races still seem exotic to me, even as they’ve long since become the old guard. I loved the Draenei look and alien tech aesthetic, and I do wish that I had stuck with my Shaman that I also rolled back then. Those totems looked wicked cool.
TBC created so many memories for me. Who didn’t fall to death in Shatt a few hundred times? Or didn’t complain about the poop-scooping quest? Or wasn’t kind of in awe of the beauty of Nagrand? It was the only expansion of pretty much any MMO where I became, temporarily, a raider. Kara was such a fun instance to explore with a 10-man group. Again, it feels like all of that was just yesterday.
Even with the new areas and tighter quest flow, TBC wasn’t without its flaws. I still don’t think that Outland meshes well with the rest of the game, zone-wise, especially with all of the subsequent expansions. I still maintain that flying mounts was a big mistake that trivialized exploration and content, a stance that feels backed up by how the devs had to keep coming up with excuses to “ground” us for the new expansions so we wouldn’t just fly over challenges. The music was so-so, probably my least favorite of all of the expansions. And the dailies were not enjoyable at all.
Wrath of the Lich King was a fine expansion and a lot of fun to return to later on, Cataclysm got my attention for about a week before losing it, and I sincerely doubt (but never say never) that I’ll see Mists of Pandaria’s content. For me, The Burning Crusade was THE expansion of the game during my career there, and I still can’t believe it’s been six years.