Back when I started playing WoW, there were a couple of zones that had a lasting impression on me. I remember playing for the first time, and getting ready to leave the Valley of Trials. When I realized that this was only a small part of a huge zone, which itself was only a tiny part of a world, I was in awe. I remember the Barrens, which (save the god awful chat) will always have a place in my heart as the vast areas of savannah you traversed (it helped you didn’t have a mount, of course). I remember Blackrock Spire, and the vertigo looking down from the bridge towards General Drakkisath‘s room to the very bottom, and all the places I had walked through to get there. And mapping out Blackrock Spire and Blackwing Lair, in my head, to figure out what way I was looking when I stood on the “balcony”, and that it all fit. But I think most of all, it is Azshara I remember.
It might be a curious choice, because there never was much of note there. But when I read Shintar’s notes about old Tanaris, I realized that this was not so curious after all. The zone had a very distinct feel. It was stuck in eternal autumn. There were lots of old ruins there, it was the site of an ancient catastrophe. But most of all, it was empty. It felt like wilderness. You could go there and actually feel like you were at the border of civilization, in an untamed world. Except for one short quest chain (the infamous tablet quests, which gave immense amounts of experience for little work in the later years), there was little reason to go there. I remember the weekly trips through the zone, down the cliff, along the coast, to the tiny island of Duke Hydraxis to pick up the Aqual Quintessence for Molten Core. Other than that, if you were in a Server First Guild, or you were really lucky, you might spot Azuregos. If not, you might run across his spirit.
In short, it was a place I liked to hang out at. A place that I could explore, and be sure that there were few people who actually had visited the nooks and crannies too. I went there every now and then to relax. I liked being at what felt like Land’s End.
Every now and then, there would be talks about changing some of the zones (most of the times, just rumors among players). Opening up Hyjal, or Gilneas. Remaking Winterspring, or Silithus. And of course, making Azshara “useful”. I was always happy when it turned out that nothing would change in my private wasteland.
But economics dictate that an opportunity not used has a cost. And land that lies waste is a great opportunity. After all, everything in the game should have a use, and every area should have quests to do, right? Even though technically, in a virtual world, space doesn’t cost much after it was designed once, and populating it is probably about as expensive as designing a new area. But the Azshara we know, and that I loved, came to an end when the world was torn asunder. It was finally civilized, made useful for the grand goal of a smooth leveling curve.
The new Azshara sure has a lot more entertainment value than the old one. There’s many quests, easy and fast transportation, and it has direct access through Orgrimmar (granted, I was always a bit surprised that one of the most remote areas of the game happened to end up north of one of the main capitals).
Azshara, to me, is an analogy to the evolution of virtual worlds. From an area that was world, and little less, it transformed into the often-quoted theme park. Quite literally so, with a roller coaster going through the whole zone. And a resort! And, of course, it’s the goblins that built all this. Economy outside of the game has changed the face of the world, with the help of the most greedy and economy-fixated ingame race. Now, instead of silent autumnal cliffs and dunes, we have arsepunk everywhere. By the way, thank you for that word Melmoth, I rarely found my own opinion on that topic put into words that well!
My sentiments might be fueled to a large degree by nostalgia. Nevertheless, losing Azshara was, I realize now, one of those thousand little things that made me lose interest in WoW over the last years. Sic transit gloria mundi. Rest in peace, old Azshara, I will remember you for what you once were, not what you are now.