The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

World of Warcraft: Through the Dark Portal to Outland

If you closed your eyes, you won’t gaze into sadness.
If you forget the feeling of warmth, you won’t feel pain.

–Houko Kuwashima, Shinkai no Kodoku

My last World of Warcraft adventure saw me traverse the more scenic places on Azeroth, and with most of Azeroth now visited, I set my sights on the next world: Outland, the shattered remains of a planet known as Draenor. After travelling to the Blasted Lands, I spoke with Relthorn Netherwane for the Through the Dark Portal quest and sought out Commander Duron on the other end. Upon emerging from the portal, I gazed upon an alien sky, littered with planetary fragments, aglow with a nebulae and adorned with two moons. I thus set off for Honour Hold with the goal of picking up a flying mount; the distances in Outland are considerably larger than those of Azeroth owing to the fact that this area had been designed for flying mounts. With my flying mount purchased, I began exploring the desolate ruins that was Outland – this region was introduced with the Burning Crusade expansion in 2007, the first of the World of Warcraft Expansions. When I had passed through the Dark Portal for the first time, it had been a quiet September evening just a ways into my final year of secondary school. My friends had kitted my mage out at the level cap, allowing me to explore the private server to my heart’s content, and having tread through most of Azeroth, I was ready to check out the other region available in Burning Crusade. The sheer scale of the Hellfire Peninsula was awe-inspiring and a little intimidating – although I was fully levelled, the unusual sights and sounds made the area a sight to behold. The larger size of the area made travel a slow process, and although the group of us did do a dungeon here, the fact that it was our final year of secondary school meant that we were spending increasingly less time in World of Warcraft; much of Outland thus remained unexplored.

After passing the standardised provincial exams and securing our admissions to our program of choice, my friends decided re-open the private World of Warcraft server for the summer break before university was set to begin. During this time, I explored regions of Outland briefly, using a flying mount to reach areas much more quickly than had been previously possible. By the summer’s end, my friend decided to shut down the private server and set his sights on creating a private EVE Online server. I’d acquired a decent number of screenshots from my experiences and had most of the spots in Outland discovered. While I’d wished to have seen Outland in more detail, World of Warcraft faded from my mind. Earlier last summer, having recreated my own private server, the chance to explore Outland again had returned. This time around, I was able to check out Outland’s more iconic locations in Zangarmarsh, Nagrand, Terokkar Forest and Netherstore more carefully. It became apparent that beyond the desolation of the aptly-named Hellfire Peninsula, Netherstorm and Shadowmoon Valley, the remainder of Outland is still somewhat hospitable. Terokkar Forest retains dense vegetation, Zangarmarsh is still teeming with life, with its striking mushrooms towering above the ground, and Nagrand’s peaceful rolling grasslands belie the fact that Outland is the sundered remains of a planet. Being a region of great beauty, it became clear that Outland, designed to accommodate flying mounts and larger player counts, was meant to be the next stop for players seeking to reach the level cap. The vastness of the region was thus noticeable on a private server; without other players around, things feel distinctly lonely.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • The first time I set foot here at the Stair of Destiny, on the edge of Hellfire Peninsula, would’ve been back during my final year of secondary school. It was early in September, and after my friend had maxed out everyone in our party so we could explore dungeons, I decided to capitalise on my newfound powers to go exploring in Outland. Unlike the verdant forests and welcoming plains of the areas I spent most of my time in, Hellfire Peninsula was a very hostile and uninviting environment. The evening I had finally set foot through the Dark Portal, I remember heading straight for Honour Hold to discover the first flight path.

  • On the same evening, I had begun hunting for music from Gundam SEED and Gundam SEED Destiny – at the time, I’d just begun watching anime, and having found Rie Tanaka’s Token of Water, I had been curious to check out other songs from this series. I ended up finding Fields of Hope, Quiet Night (and the CE 73 remix), Emotion, Vestige and Meteor, as well as Shinkai no Kodoku. There had been a haunting quality about what I would later learn was Stellar’s character song. I’ve since associated the song with this part of World of Warcraft for little reason beyond having listened to it while exploring Hellfire Peninsula.

  • On my return visit last August, after I reached Honour Hold, I immediately picked up the artisan riding skill and a swift Gryphon mount to explore Outland more easily. Even with a flying mount, Outland is vast, and it took some time for me to discover all of the spots in the Hellfire Peninsula area. Hellfire Peninsula was designed for level sixty players looking to gear up for tougher challenges, and so, the monsters here will take more than one spell to defeat. Here, I stand on a field of Draenai bones – according to the lore, Draenor was once home of the orcs, and in their thirst for conquest, they slaughtered Draenai in droves.

  • When Burning Crusade first released, hordes of excited players passed through the Dark Portal as I did, spawning to Hellfire Peninsula and causing unexpected issues on the servers. Besides server loads, latency and connectivity problems, extremely high player counts meant that monsters were not respawning quickly enough for quests, creating frustration for the players that did manage to connect. A few days after launch, as players began moving into other areas in Outland, this issue resolved itself, but Blizzard would address this in Wrath of the Lich King by creating two different starting areas to manage player loads better.

  • Since I was already at the level cap, there was no real reason to take on too many quests in Outland, but for Hellfire Peninsula, I decided to go exploring in more detail than I had previously – after accepting a variety of quests from Honour Hold, I spent a few evenings blasting low level enemies and explored more of Hellfire Peninsula than I had during my original run more than a decade ago. Once I had most of Hellfire Peninsula discovered, I set World of Warcraft aside to focus more on The Division 2, and returned only recently to finish discovering regions in Outland. Of late, finding a balance between all of my games has been a bit of a challenge.

  • This is admittedly why I’ve not written this post sooner: my original goal had actually been to wrap up my exploration of Outland last September and write about the experience in October, before turning my attention towards recreating my Blood Elf warlock and exploring Northerend. A pair of anime to review episodically, in conjunction with The Division 2‘s manhunt seasons and Halo: MCC releases meant I was up to my eyeballs in stuff, and World of Warcraft thus fell to the back of my mind. Here, I set foot in Zangarmarsh – I’d never really explored this area in detail previously, having only passed through on the way to Nagrand and its peaceful glass fields.

  • Zangarmarsh is usually the second place that players visit after clearing Hellfire Peninsula, and is counted as one of the coolest-looking places in World of Warcraft. While I may have skipped over this area earlier, this time around, I had the time to take a look-see. The area is every bit as exotic as people describe: underneath the deep blue skies and wetlands, vast mushrooms whose cap exudes a light orange glow. The effect is very pleasant and pleasing to behold.

  • While I do have access to by own flying mount, I appreciate the existence of flight paths, which allow players without artisan or expert riding to get around easily; because of the greater distances between everything, flight times are longer, and correspondingly, it costs a bit more to fly. However, since Outland was geared for level sixty players to begin upgrading their gear, even common gear sells for a decent price, and in no time at all, players will begin finding the gear they seek. The uncommons in Outland were oftentimes more powerful than most rares, and offered similar attributes as epics, similarly to how Warlords of New York‘s common level 31 items were more powerful than gear score 515 items.

  • After checking out most of Zangarmarsh, I moved onwards to Nagrand, the only place in Outland with green grass and blue skies. Although the most normal-looking of the regions in Outland, even here, the effects of the Shattering are visible. The unusual-looking nebulae is still visible during the day, and floating islands dot the area. Of all the areas in Outland, Nagrand looked the emptiest, and initially, I wondered if my copy of the resource database was missing assets: it took me a full hour to try and find the flight master, and there didn’t seem to be any major settlements.

  • As it turns out, I simply hadn’t been looking hard enough, and sure enough, I was able to locate the flight master here in Nagrand near the town of Halaa. This area is the home of the original orcs, and lore states that the area most resembles Draenor pre-Shattering. This is one of the few places in Outland where the realm time affects the time of day in-game; during the afternoon, the skies are of a bright blue colour, while during evenings and mornings, the sky takes on a purple hue. Because my realm time is always my system time, I’ve never actually seen Azeroth or any World of Warcraft location by nightfall.

  • I’ve long wondered if sunrise and sunset times affect this; I should make an effort to test this out ahead of the Vernal Equinox, when the length of the night is still longer than that of the day. Of course, I could always change my system clock manually if I wish to explore Azeroth by nightfall, and this might be worthwhile as a future post. Back in the present, I pass through a seemingly empty village. I did end up finding some monsters to fight, and after exploring most of Nagrand, I decided to head on over to Terokkar Forest.

  • Terrokar Forest is a region of dense forest surrounding Shattrath City, a neutral sanctuary area similar to the Stair of Destiny. There are flight hubs, inns and vendors here for both Alliance and Horde factions alike. After locating the flight master, I set about exploring Terrokar forest: the crystal pines, as they are called in-game, emit a faint light from their cones that creates a mystical feel about the area, and unlike the harder-hit areas of Outland, Terrokar forest still feels very much alive.

  • I was surprised to find Human assets reused here in Terrokar forest: the town hall here is the same one used in human settlements on Azeroth. While seeing human town halls in Outland does feel a little out of place, it does make sense that if humans have made their home in some part of Outland, they’d bring their architecture with them. Asset recycling is not that uncommon of a practise in software development, saving on work time, and it’s a bonus that in games, lore can be adapted to work with development processes, as well.

  • After I uncovered most of the places in Terrokar Forest, the next location on my list was the Blade’s Edge Mountains. This intimidating-looking area is characterised by knife-like rock formations jutting out of the mountains, separating accessible areas. I’d never actually visited before, even during my old private server days, and so, upon entering the region from Zangarmarsh, I was quite surprised to see a forest by twilight: the map had suggested the entire thing would be a desert-like region.

  • This was not the case, and I spent some time exploring this side of the Blade’s Edge Mountains: on my way in from Zangarmarsh, I’d accepted a quest from one of the quest givers, which required I talk to someone at an outpost in the Blade’s Edge Mountains. Previously, when I played World of Warcraft, my preferred style of play was to only go visit a new area if I’d acquired a quest that required me to travel there. From an experience perspective, this makes the most sense, and I would eventually bring this style over with me into Skyrim. In games like The Division, on the other hand, natural progression and smaller maps would see me explore every corner of the game world.

  • After taking to the skies, I soon found that a large portion of the Blade’s Edge Mountains were indeed barren desert as I’d imagined. While the jagged, menacing-looking rocky formations appear as though they would impale anyone who fell off their mount, limitations in World of Warcraft‘s game engine means that falling onto these rocks do not result in any damage: instead, it is falling damage that would cause the most harm to a player. Here, I fly over an encampment near Bloodspire Hold en route to the Netherstorm.

  • After reaching Death’s Door, I saw an Alliance outpost here and dropped in to discover the flight path before moving on. For most players of the time, the Blade’s Edge Mountains would not have been fully accessible until they’d acquired artisan riding: there are some areas that have no land paths reaching them. In my case, this isn’t a problem, but I’ve read that particularly determined players can reach these areas by jumping off Outland’s edge, which, depending on where one dies, the game will register them as being near these inaccessible areas.

  • Netherstorm was the last region in Outland I was interested in checking out: it is a perilous region of swirling energy, barren rock and dark skies, but the area’s most distinct features are the vast eco-domes that were constructed here. These eco-domes resemble vast conservatories, and their interiors possess verdant vegetation and different animals. Players can simply walk through the barriers at any time, which are maintained by devices known as Manaforges. Here, a Manaforge can be seen drawing in Nether from the nearby regions and using it to maintain the domes.

  • I’ve opted not to explore Shadowmoon Valley, a miserable and desolate wasteland seething with greenish Fel energy. While important from a lore perspective, it wasn’t too photogenic. At the time of writing, I have more or less discovered most of the major areas in Outland; I enjoyed some areas more than others, but on the whole, this was a fun experience. For most players, Outland would’ve become familiar as they progressed from level 60 to 70, and eventually reached a point where they had a satisfactory setup for partying up and dealing with the different instances and raids that Outland had to offer.

  • For me, Burning Crusade brought the Blood Elves to the table; I had a great deal of fun levelling up a Blood Elf warlock back in the day, and in particular, remember a challenging quest that gave me a rare item while I’d been at level 20. While World of Warcraft: Starter Edition meant completing this quest wasn’t going to happen if I’d tried it on my own, having my own server means I’ll be able to really explore the lore in the Eversong Woods and Ghostlands. This is going to be my next World of Warcraft post: I can’t promise a specific date as to when I’ll get here, but I’ll definitely try to be more expedient about it than I had been with Outland. With this World of Warcraft reminiscence post in the books, regular programming will resume this week, as I write about the third episode of Yuru Camp△ 2 and do an after-three discussion for Non Non Biyori Nonstop.

With no time constraints this time around, I’ve now visited a majority of the places in Outland. From the floating islands in Nagrand and the town built into the mushrooms of Zangarmarsh, to the spiny formations of Blade’s Edge Mountains and the eco-domes of the Netherstorm, I found myself impressed at how much effort and detail went into World of Warcraft‘s first expansion. Each region in Outland was distinct and noteworthy in some way, and for players of the time, there would’ve been no shortage of things to do as one pushed towards level seventy. The setup World of Warcraft used for its expansions has since been used in other cases: The Division 2 follows the same model, allowing players who’ve purchased the expansion to experience new content, acquire superior gear and explore new areas. Having gone through Warlords of New York, I imagine Burning Crusade would’ve offered World of Warcraft players a similar path, in which exploration would allow them to become increasingly powerful and learned with the new lore that Burning Crusade introduced. Burning Crusade also introduced the Blood Elves, as well as their starting areas (Eversong Woods and Ghostlands): before I set foot on Northerend, I do wish to revisit what is probably one of my favourite starting areas in World of Warcraft and reacquaint myself with playing the warlock class, which specialises in affliction and DPS magic. There is a story behind me spinning up a second character on the private server, and I’ll share that in between the host of anime-related posts I’ve got planned out, once I’ve had a chance to get my warlock started.

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