How far have we come? An entire world traveled and still not done. For you see there was one other addition in the Burning Crusade. To reach it we must step through the Dark Portal, into the realm of Outland.
This one took a while. Outland is big. Even discounting the Draenei and Blood Elf areas added to Azeroth it still had depths that took years to plumb. Each of the Outland zones were huge. At the least they gave the Barrens a run for its money, packed with mini-areas and places of interest. The settlements were varied and staged, so that the entire expansion had a more structured feel than the original zones. However the sacrifice of a natural space wasn't made and the areas managed to feel as real as the Azeroth ones.
It all starts with that first step onto Hellfire Peninsula. Even today the Stair of Destiny is an impressive sight. You walk through the portal, disoriented and start at the sounds of battle. Demons assault the stairs and the outpost is under siege. /the sky is strange and harsh. Islands of rock float high above you. Comrades and enemies both you have stepped into a whole new world. Ah, yes. That was quite a problem on launch. There was one entry point to Outland and everyone was there. Servers crashed, machines melted. Easy knowing they learned their lesson with every expansion afterward having two starting areas. But back to Hellfire. After the initial wow factor wears off the zone, while impressive does wear on you. It's a great valley hanging in the void sure but it's quickly just demon boars and dusty roads. It's also too big. Hellfire is the one zone where I'd say the size works against it rather than for it. Perhaps it was just too open. Certainly near the edges of the zone is where the interesting nooks and crannies lie. There you'll find smoky demon valleys and strange crystal craters. At the center squats the Citadel, the first introduction to Burning Crusade's dungeon system. The Citadel and its wings were servicable, Mannoroth's Lair being the most noteworthy location. Slog on adventurer and you'll find your way from weird...
...to wonderful. My first memory of Zangarmarsh was entering it from Hellfire. The naked sky of Hellfire gradually cloaked in an azure light. A damp fog descended and then I saw them. The fungi forests. Great towering mushrooms cover the marsh, forming a unique eco-system that is both beautiful and breathtaking even today. They cluster around the great lakes and pools, shielding their natives from the demon plague. The beasts here are unique and bizarre. Sporebats, fungal lords and great marsh stalkers. Zangarmarsh is also home to the Cenarion Expedition, whose dedication to protecting nature is better realised here than anywhere. They've settled in one of the most peaceful regions in Outland. I can and have sat under a mushroom late at night, the lakewaters lapping at my feet as the gentle soundtrack unfolds before my ears. All is not well in paradise though. Naga infest the lakes, guarding massive clunking water pumps. Every lake has one of their these machines, draining away the waters. The northeast section of the marsh is completely dry. This visual demonstration of their plans provides a spur toward stopping them. For me, Zangarmarsh was worth the price of admission.
South of Hellfire is a similarly verdant realm. Terokkar Forest is a little more traditional than Zangarmarsh, being a forest made of actual trees. It's still a region of verdant beauty however. The trees are much stranger than anything back home. They have an almost bonsai quality to them, like some titan gardener pruned and shaped them over the last thousand years. Their unique appearance also affords contrast as you travel from shade to brilliant light. Amidst the trees you may eventually come upon an entrance to Shattrath, city of Outland and the most important location of the Burning Crusade expansion. Adventurers gather here from both sides to trade, travel and quest. The city of Shattrath is worth a whole section to itself but to summarise: It is an excellent location but it is not a city. Indeed it wasn't meant to feel like a city. It's a refugee camp filled with those seeking protection from the demons. It was disappointing to some perhaps but it felt like it served its purposes to me. There's more to Terokkar but unfortunately the forest ends too soon, becoming the bone wastes around Auchindoun. There's not much to say about this place as it serves more as an intro to the dungeon than anything else. Instead we take the passage west.
And come to Nagrand. Nagrand elicts a lot of positive reactions. It's one of the few places still resembling the original Draenor. It provides a home to the native creatures, including uncorrupted orcs. The only apparent effects of the Outland are the great islands hanging in the mauve sky. The bizarre geography makes for some spectacular views as well as presenting strategic opportunities and hiding a few secrets for those with the ability to fly. Despite all this Nagrand never really impressed me. It feels very Green Hill Zone in an Outland hanging in the Twisting Nether. I understand its intent. It provides a breather after the harshness of Hellfire and the fertile landscapes of Terrokar and Zangarmarsh. I almost wish they'd located Shattrath here as it would have fit better than in Terokkar. Oshu'gun is the one redeeming feature, a shoe-in for Ayers Rock in Australia. Nagrand was a battleground for a long time on my server, as it had the unique feature of a town that could be taken over by either faction. Most of my memories of Nagrand consist of fights. Perhaps I'd like Nagrand better if I hadn't lost so much.
North of Zangarmarsh, following tunnels through the impassible cliffs we come to the Blade’s Edge Mountains. The zone itself consists of a series of stark valleys between the ranges, their sides lined with jagged bladelike protrusions. Blade's Edge is stark, even shocking in its nature for impaled upon these spikes you'll spot black dragons of all sizes. A massacre took place here, one the ogres are only too eager to boast about. It made for an unpleasant experience, not unlike treading in a mass grave. There's much more to the Blade's Edge of course. It's a fairly splintered zone with mountain ranges separating verdant green hills from sandy bug haunted deserts. Many of the paths between are dangerous and were constant ambush sites back in the day. Even traversing them today I tend to be wary. Beyond the ogre run center of Blade's Edge the other place I remember clearly is one particular demon controlled valley. It was hell to get into but the feeling of exploration gave Blade's Edge a much needed twist and so I'd say its scatter brained design paid off.
East of Terokkar the road leads down into Shadowmoon Valley. Here lies the endgame of Burning Crusade. This shadow haunted place is home to Illidan's forces and is under siege by both the Alliance and Horde. The first thought that struck me on entering was Burning Steppes 2.0. Indeed, the valley has a massive volcano in the form of the Hand of Gul'dan which covers much of the center of the zone with green lava. The Valley has a more apocalyptic feel though as the sky itself is afire and meteors are a regular occurrence. On the far eastern side, the Black Temple dominates the skyline. It's easy enough to enter the grounds and they feel very much like Jintha'Alor in the Hinterlands. Specifically in that once you get in it can be very hard to get back out. Flying mounts rook some of the hassle out of it of course but something about all those meteors always made me nervous about flying in Shadowmoon. Just before the Temple you can find another piece of Warcraft history. Maiev's prison is worth a visit and steeped in the lore of the setting. I don't remember much else about the zone because I spent more time somewhere else for the end game. Somewhere on the other side of the continent.
The Blade's Edge ends in the east with a sheer cliff face falling away into the void. There is also a shaky bridge leading across into Netherstorm. It is here that the final end of Draenor becomes apparent. Netherstorm is almost lost in the Twisting Nether. The land is rent in great chunks, tenuously bound by chains. Every slope is treacherous, ending in a drop into nothing. The sky is rent by a great storm that is slowly eating away at reality. Everything is tainted violet by the ambient magic. Just a short walk from the bridge you'll find Area 52, an outpost of goblins. Who else would be mad enough to live here? quite a few people actually. Netherstorm is dominated by two very unnatural features. The first are the manaforges. Great arcane batteries, they suck power from the storm, feeding it back to their HQ, Tempest Keep. Controlled by demons and their envoys the manaforges are just another part of the Legion's ruination of Outland, tearing even this penguin fringed abyss apart. As you're busy avoiding them though you can't help but notice the massive glowing domes around the center of Netherstorm. Imagine your surprise when you cross the threshold of one to find a lush jungle paradise, populated raptors, tigers and all the things you'd expect in Stranglethorn back home. These are the eco-domes, great nature preserves run for the ostentatious delight of the ethereals.
And that is Outland. It's been quite a nostalgia trip, travelling WoW as I remember it. There's been good times and friends made. But in the end, it's just a bit of fun.