The lights are on
Some would say Blizzard’s virtual playground of Azeroth is all about acquiring new, rare loot or participating in end-game content, which might be true for some. But for me, Azeroth is defined by its places and the people who inhabit them, and I’m of the belief that no other place captures the essence of World of Warcraft quite like the Crossroads.
Located in the Barrens region of Kalimdor, the Crossroads is a central hub town for Horde players. Beginners arrive from both Mulgore, the starting zone for Tauren players, and Durotar, the starting zone for orc and troll players. This low level zone is many players’ first step into the wider world of Azeroth. The region’s windswept savannahs, abundant wildlife, and less than friendly alliance players serve as the welcoming committee.
The importance of this small, unassuming town in the days of pre-expansion WoW can’t be over emphasized. Before subsequent expansion packs added flying mounts, every player was a slave to the flight path system connecting towns. Because of its central location, the Crossroads served not only as a key location in the immediate area but of the whole continent. Level 60 Horde players routinely flew into town on their way to higher level zones, or sometimes would arrive to help fight off attacking members of the Alliance. Low level Horde players like me couldn’t help but be a little star struck by these mighty heroes passing through town, their end-game armor gleaming in the sun as they chased down Alliance players on my behalf.
While it is a Horde territory, Alliance players had plenty of reasons to visit the Barrens. Three popular dungeons, and the desirable loot within, reside inside the massive zone. The contested territory of Ashenvale is north of the Barrens, and Dustwallow Marsh is to the east. The city of Ratchet sits along the eastern coast. Two other contested zones, the Stonetalon Mountains and Thousand Needles, also share borders with the Barrens. Naturally, a constant influx of both high and low level Alliance players made their way through the Horde territory. These passersby routinely raided the Crossroads, often leaving no survivors.
Alliance attacks on the Crossroads and its subsequent occupation held real consequences for Horde players. Alliance forces would continually kill quest NPCs until the Horde drove them out, making it impossible for many to turn in quests. The strife of the Crossroads provided a great first taste of player-versus-player excitement for members of the Horde playing on servers that permitted it.
The Crossroads and the Barrens were also defined by the region’s huge size. With so many quests to complete and areas to discover, most players leveled in the Barrens for a long time. Thankfully, the region’s now infamous “Barrens Chat”, made for great discussion and entertainment for the numerous players grinding their way through. The absurd conversation of players representing all classes and levels was difficult to ignore and join in on.
Sadly, much of what made the Barrens so great no longer exists. The Crossroads have largely been forgotten as multiple expansions have altered the landscape of the Barrens and WoW as a whole. Because of the zone’s size, Blizzard split the region in two with the game’s Cataclysm expansion. Horde players can now bypass the zone entirely. With so few players the Barrens Chat has become desolate. Alliance raids are now a distant memory. The NPCs, quest givers, and buildings still stand, but without the bustling player interaction that made the town special, it is a crossroads in name only.
The Crossroads and the Barrens represent everything that made my three years of experience with WoW memorable. It captured the feeling of discovery upon entering a new world for the first time. It provided meaningful - and often hilarious - social interactions between members of my faction and also hosted dangerous encounters with the enemy. It was World of Warcraft’s melting pot, the one location where the entire game came together and became more than a game. Whether this happened organically or was planned by Blizzard I don’t know, but I will always remember the Crossroads and the adventures I had there.
Email the author Cameron Koch, or follow on Game Informer.