The lights are on
Standing on the safe side of the dark portal, I prepare myself for Outland. World of Warcraft’s first expansion, The Burning Crusade, offers flying mounts, player-versus-player arenas, and an unknown world to explore. I hear my guildmates screaming through my speakers, calling me to the battle on the other side. I take a deep breath and jump through the gate.
The arrival of World of Warcraft’s first expansion marked a critical point in my experience with the MMORPG. I had poured days of my life into Azeroth, but since I was the last to join the game out of my friends, I had been perpetually late to the party. The Burning Crusade was not only an indication that the massive world would continue to grow, but that I would also have a chance to experience an unknown world side-by-side with my friends.
After I overcome my initial hesitation (and wait for the loading screen to finish), I glimpse Outland for the first time. My attention is immediately drawn to the celestial chaos in the sky. Huge planets hang in a sunless sky. Rivers of energy stretch across the horizon, and islands of blasted rock suspended impossibly in the air. I look downward. The alien landscape is covered in demons and just below me the two factions of World of Warcraft, non-player characters for the alliance and the horde, fight side by side.
I hesitate. I’m on a player-versus-player server, and if World of Warcraft taught me anything, it’s that griefing knows no bounds. An alliance warrior charges in. I tentatively sprint into combat next to my traditional enemy. To my surprise, more players on both sides join the conflict, avoiding violence with each other. Driven by a shared interest in exploring the unknown, the fighting between the factions has stalled for now.
Quests whisk me away from the battle and soon I join my friends. The more quests we complete, the deeper we go into the zone and the more we discover. We spot a massive demon in the distance. The demon, called Fel Reaver, marches across the landscape. We laugh when we see some fool get squished and run in terror when it turns on us.
There would be hiccups down the line. I would encounter the normal frustration of being killed while I was questing. Eventually every corner of the new world would be explored and catalogued on some wiki site, but for that particular moment, I was on the frontier with my friends. We discovered enemies together. We died a lot while we explored because we wanted to learn the hard way. For the first time since I started World of Warcraft, I experienced something akin to being on the frontier. In the mad rush of release, I felt like I was where no one else had been, which was exactly what I wanted out of the expansion.
With the return of Blizzard’s eye to the lands beyond the dark portal in their upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor, I can’t help but think back to that critical moment of sprinting toward the dark portal and taking my first steps in the stunning and blasted landscape. This will be the first expansion since The Burning Crusade that I’m truly excited for, though it will be for an altogether different reason than exploring the unknown. I expect a pleasant sense of familiarity as I wait for the midnight launch, staring in anticipation at the dark portal.
Email the author Isaac Perry, or follow on Game Informer.