The story of Northern Kalimdor begins in its isles. Teldrassil is the youngest island. In fact Teldrassil isn't an island at all. It's a great tree planted and grown from the ocean. How did they grow a tree from the ocean you ask? Shut up. Sadly Teldrassil's uniqueness only becomes apparent when venturing outside it, to the port of Rutheran. Due to limitations, Teldrassil is a walled up region, only accessible by a portal at the port. That's a shame as much could have been done with a World Tree. As it is Teldrassil feels like a walled garden, its boughs leading naturally towards the Night Elf capital of Darnassus. Darnassus is worth a visit, nestled amidst a region of lakes that lend the city an unspoiled feel. Again there's a lack of realisation of the space. The city has vast empty spaces with its boroughs clinging to the edges. Situated at the edge of the world the night elves really got the short shrift, their nature better realised in other zones.
Another island of Kalimdor is Azuremyst Isle far to the west. Azuremyst Isle for me holds the privilege of the best soundtrack in the game. A wooded isle shrouded in mists it is an idyllic location. The air carries a bit of magic, the great crystals that dot the landscape blending rather than clashing with its natural beauty. It's also home to the Draenei and their crashed spaceship the Exodar. Unfortunately while Azuremyst Isle has a lot of promise and some spectacular vistas it hasn't got much going on. Most disappointingly the Exodar capital is just a series of chambers with little of the charm of the other expansion capital, Silvermoon City. Part of the problem is the island's empty history. Apparently a bunch of furbolgs just sat around until the Draenei landed. Still, when all the world's at war it can be nice to find a little peace.
The last island is Bloodmyst Isle. Where Azuremyst Isle offers peace, Bloodmyst holds only a cloying sense of corruption. I never spent much time in Bloodmyst. Its isolation is a bad thing at a time in your character's journey that you'll be looking to branch out and make friends. While its red mists and corrupted landscape provide a counterpoint to Azuremyst they're a little over the top. It feels too soon to introduce rampant corruption. Again the contrast is with its counterpart expansion region the Ghostlands which are ruined in a similar fashion. Stacking the two against each other Bloodmyst just doesn't add up. After half an hour of Bloodmyst I find myself wishing for the relentless sun of the Barrens.
It's time to head for shore. Darkshore as a matter of fact. The long northern coastline is home to Auberdine, a comparatively major port for the Alliance. Here both night elves from Teldrassil and Draenei from Azuremyst arrive, looking for the boat to Azeroth. However some stay on in Darkshore to explore its gloomy forests and dismal shores. Night elven ruins stud the forests and the long journey south culminates in the awesome sight of the Master's Glaive, the corpse of some dead god with a titan blade still embedded in it. Away from the bustle of the main Alliance lands and the conflict with the Horde Darkshore can be a peaceful place to adventure though you may be glad to leave. Darkshore hangs beneath a general malaise, wallowing in its own history.
South then, down the long road, the trees growing greater and more regal until we reach Ashenvale. Here at last we come to the Elven forest of legend. Ashenvale is a tangle of trees, hills, crevasses and rivers. A deeply enchanted forest, Ashenvale holds an aura of mystery that confounds travellers. Many have become lost or stuck and their curses and flailing inevitably draws predators. Ashenvale is a place of danger. It was for me the first site of the endless battle between the Alliance and Horde. The far eastern reaches hold the Horde lumber camps. From there they strike at Astranaar and the scattered holdings of the elves. Over every hill and behind every tree lies an elf or forsaken rogue, sharpening their blades. It's easy to find war in Ashenvale, or peace. Either waits just beyond the next glade. Ashenvale is the gateway to northern Kalimdor,having almost as many links as the Barrens. Indeed the two are linked, though the passage is guarded by the Mor'shan Rampart.
East of Ashenvale lies Azshara. Named for the mad queen of the elves, Azshara is bathed in eternal autumn. It is one of the forgotten zones, end-game regions with not much to do. With Burning Crusade it serves even less purpose as people departed it for the Outland. That's a shame as Azshara is a beautiful place, filled with the red-yellow hues of falling leaves. Like much of Northern Kalimdor it is fairly steep, the hills giving way to a two-pronged cliff coastline, that form a semi-circle around a great sunken city infested by naga. Azshara is all about forgotten things. The mountains to the south hide the entrances to what might have once been a planned battleground. Presumably both sides realised there was no point in fighting about it. Azshara is a place to relax, it suffers no corruption, and whatever the naga might be up to it's not despoiling nature.
The northern passage from Ashenvale heads into the twisted realm of Felwood. Like Darkshore, Felwood stretches a long way north, however unlike Darkshore every metre is befouled and treacherous. Felwood suffers from a daemonic corruption. Its waters run green, its trees have nightmarish faces, the animals are mutated and strange. At its apex demons dwell, conducting foul sorceries to further profane the region. There's plenty to do in Felwood and it provides an alternative to the endless Plaguelands though not much of a change in atmosphere. At the northern end of Felwood lies the Timbermaw Hold. One of the original grinds the Timbermaw are a group of paranoid furbolg who remain hostile until a player has completed enough of their quests and killed their enemies to prove themselves. Failure to do so renders the Hold, the only access point for the remotest regions of Kalimdor, a long and gruelling battle. Felwood is full of horrors, some of them the grind.
Moonglade is one of those remote regions, though in truth those who can't get there have little reason to go. A large, wooded valley at the north end of Kalimdor, it can be reached only through the Timbermaw Hold, unless you're a druid. Moonglade is is the domain of the druids. Here the war is a million miles away. The Cenarion Circle keeps the peace. non-druids find little. Moonglade is bereft of the usual hostile fauna, its quests only pertain to druids and their learning the ways of nature. Sometimes groups will meet under a flag of truce, more rarely some canny rogue will find a way to cause trouble. There's a few sights for the tourist, the Cenarion village itself is pleasantly situated above the great lake. The barrow dens offer a tantalising glimpse of possible future battles, the woods are good to run through without the usual attacks. All too soon though the restless adevnturer will hear the call to war and return to the madness beyond.
Time to go higher. The other passage in the Timbermaw hold leads up into the chilly peaks of Winterspring. One of the most remote corners, Winterspring has no great dungeons but sees traffic all the same. Many people come to the goblin settlement of Everlook, a base camp of sorts in the otherwise unfriendly snows. Winterspring is rarely touched by warfare but it is home to a range of fierce creatures, including the blue dragons. In atmosphere Winterspring holds something of the magic of Ashenvale and the trees cast a warm light over what might have been a desolate tundra. Hotsprings are common, as you might guess from the name. Relaxing in one can be recommended, though watch out for the yetis. In the southern reaches the land undergoes a stark transformation. Here lies Darkwhisper Gorge, a rats' nest of demons which is best avoided. Nevertheless, some adventurers questing for epic items travel here.
And those adventurers might just be mad enough to find the passage to Mount Hyjal. Though not a true region of the game Hyjal bears mention for being the most common secret zone that was accessed. The entrance to it was blocked up and only by glitching over the mountains could one find their way. From there they would travel up a long and spiralling path that passes through several sheer valleys. Most are only lightly finished, showing that there was a lot of work remaining on this zone when it was abandoned. However the journey is not in vain. There at the very peak one could find the previous world tree, Nordrassil. Nestled in its branches is the corpse of Archimonde, still gripping the tree in his death throes. With Cataclysm this zone was realised in its finished form but for now we rest.
Next week the secrets of Southern Kalimdor are opened to us. Bring your veil though, the desert sands blow fierce and the wind carries an eldritch cry. Tekeli-li!