We Were Not Prepared: Celebrating World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade
Nine years ago, we saw the end of what everyone considers "Vanilla" World of Warcraft. Three years after the successful launch of World of Warcraft, Blizzard finally stepped in and released something that we all knew was inevitably going to happen—an expansion. Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness got the Beyond the Dark Portal expansion, Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos got The Frozen Throne expansion, and StarCraft got the Brood War expansion over the years; it would make sense that Blizzard's multi-million dollar journey into the massively multiplayer online role-playing game scene would have one as well. Little did we know that we'd be venturing into the Dark Portal one more time.
For the first two years of World of Warcraft, everything was fine and dandy, but fans still had a lot on their minds pertaining to all the big baddies we've seen throughout Warcraft I-III and their subsequent expansions. While we were trying to fight Ragnaros under Blackrock Mountain, Warcraft vets had a lot of questions. What happened to Illidan Stormrage, Draenor, the Dark Portal, Kil'jaeden, Lady Vashj, Kael'thas, the Blood Elves, Hellfire Citadel, the Fel Orcs corrupted by the blood of Mammaroth and the Burning Legion? Well, Blizzard finally answered most of those questions with the release of the Burning Crusade, World of Warcraft's first major expansion.
The Burning Crusade granted players access to Outland, the shattered remnants of the Orc homeworld of Draenor. The level cap raised from 60 to 70. At level 60 (later knocked down to a requirement of 58), players were able to enter the Dark Portal in the Blasted Lands and proceed into Hellfire Peninsula, the first zone of Outland. What they found was a warzone. The Alliance and Horde threw their differences aside to rally together and fight the invasion of the Burning Legion. With armies of demons forcing their way to the Dark Portal to invade Azeroth, it was up to players to sabotage the Legion's forces and put a stop to the hordes of Fel Orcs that were behind them. You would then go on to the vibrant swamps of Zangarmarsh, the planes of Nagrand, Terokar Forest, Blade's Edge Mountains, Netherstorm, and eventually Shadowmoon Valley. Nagrand had a clan of brown Orcs that thrived, avoiding the corruption of Mammaroth. Blade's Edge Mountains was filled with ogres. Terokar was home to Shattrath City. Netherstorm's shattered, floating islands were home to Kael'thas' armies. Lastly, Illidan made his home atop the Black Temple of Shadowmoon Valley.
These zones were varied, offered tons of content, intricate storylines, and made the MMORPG experience feel new, especially for those who played the heck out of Vanilla WoW. Blizzard also added two new races for the game: Draenei for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde. This gave the Horde access to the previously Alliance-exclusive Paladin class, and the Draenei were given the formerly Horde-only Shaman class. The game added intricate raids, where you had to fight the Burning Legion's gravest threats, ending with an assault on the Black Temple with an unforgettable, climactic fight against Illidan.
Best of all, the Burning Crusade expansion added controllable flying mounts to the game. You were previously able to use Flight Paths to fly from point to point across the map in an automated fashion, but flying mounts allowed you complete control through the skies, irrevocably changing the gameplay experience out in the wilds of Outland. Want to do a quest? Now, you don't have to clear all the monsters between you and your target. Instead, you just fly up, soar over the threats, land, do your thing, and leave. Likewise, this allowed for all kinds of surprise PVP encounters and tons of ganking. Nevertheless, we love the Burning Crusade for what it was, and it marks one of our favorite eras in World of Warcraft history, one that would only be surpassed a year and a half later with the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King.