The Burning Crusade, the first expansion to World of Warcraft, was released on January 16, 2007, and, like any self-respecting geek, I was at the store by midnight eager to buy my copy. The launch was a little disappointing to be honest. Trying to quest was a nightmare: the lag was bad, and fighting hundreds of players over mobs to kill was just no fun. After a while, I gave up, enjoying instead the party in Thrallmar, the first city in the game. Still, The Burning Crusade gave me the best two years in all my time playing World of Warcraft.
In Warcraft II, we learnt that the orcs attacked Azeroth from across the Dark Portal. In The Burning Crusade, we boldly cross this Dark Portal and venture in the orcs’ home world, Outland. Two races are added, the blood elves for the Horde and the Draenei for the Alliance, and the paladin and shaman classes are made available to both factions. The expansion also increases the level cap from sixty to seventy and provides each class with new abilities that help fill gaps in the gameplay. For example, it brings tanking (absorbing all damage) to druids and paladins instead of just warriors, allowing for more variety in group composition.
A great addition is the heroic mode for new dungeons. At level seventy, you can earn extra loot by running these dungeons with added difficulty. At launch, heroic mode was beyond insane. You had to know what you were doing to complete the dungeons, and, even then, a little luck was often needed. It was great fun. Unfortunately, the developers eventually made heroic dungeons easier, owing to complaints from players who don’t seem to understand the meaning of “heroic”. Heroic mode is now so easy there’s no longer any reason to run dungeons normally.
Reducing the number of players to ten or twenty-five, The Burning Crusade provides the best raid experience. The environment sets the perfect mood. As you move deeper into a dungeon, the mobs and decor change. There is a real feeling of progression. Also, you get to kill bosses from previous games such as Kael’Thas, Lady Vashj, Illidan Stormrage, and Kil’Jaeden, all main characters in Warcraft III. Knowing their back story really adds to the excitement. I believe all twenty-five members of my raid had a nerdgasm when we witnessed Illidan take out his legendary weapons, the Warglaives of Azzinoth, and taunt, “You are not prepared!”
The arena is the most controversial addition to the game, changing the face of player versus player (PvP) combat. Teams of two, three or five fight each other to the death. The best teams approach these matches like a game of chess. They move and counter in formation, always making sure to use their abilities at the proper time. Proponents of the arena argue that it is the ultimate test of skill and strategy.
However, the best gear is available only in the arena. As a result, battlegrounds have become secondary set pieces, diminishing the community aspect of the game. Furthermore, I don’t feel arenas have a place in the World of Warcraft lore: “We are engaged in an epic war against the Alliance, our sworn enemy, so let’s go to the arena and fight our own people to the death like gladiators!”
Another addition is the Eye of the Storm, a new battleground that promotes the war between the Alliance and the Horde. It’s basically a mix between a “capture the flag” and “control the map” game. I normally don’t like gimmicky battles of this kind. We are at war, after all. Why should we care whether we can capture a flag more often than the enemy? However, the variety eventually won me over. Many strategies can lead to victory, which keeps the battleground interesting.
On the subject of battlegrounds, changes are made to an old favourite of mine, Alterac Valley. It’s gone from an epic battle that can sometimes last hours to a race that you can win in a few minutes without even encountering the other faction. You know a battleground has reached true greatness when you don’t even get to do battle in it. Two expansions later, Alterac Valley still hasn’t recovered from the changes made in The Burning Crusade.
The game also introduces resilience, a new item stat that has gone through many redesigns. Its purpose is to reduce the damage taken from other players, which creates a weird dynamic. You can have great raid gear but still suck at PvP because other players can kill you almost instantly. By the same token, you can have great PvP gear but suck in raid situations because you do less damage or run out of mana too fast. This forces you to acquire two different sets of gear, which can take much time and effort, and sometimes you end up having to choose between the sets.
Still, the good in The Burning Crusade far outweighs the bad. In fact, the community, which is one of the best things about World of Warcraft, continued to flourish, and Blizzard created another great server-wide event. In it, two warring factions work together to take the island of Quel’Danas back from demons that seek control of the Sunwell. Seeing these enemies work side by side prompts players from both the Alliance and the Horde to cooperate and help out. This sets the tone for Wrath of the Lich King, in which the two factions must once again team up for a greater purpose. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. All we knew is that we couldn’t wait to see what the next expansion would add to the table.