My favourite genre of games, and where some of my fondest gaming memories come from, is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). I am going to take you down my memory lane as I explore my origins playing MMORPGs from the late 90’s through to today in a multi-part series. In Part 8.3 I will be exploring the first World of Warcraft expansion called The Burning Crusade.
Catch up on previous entries in this series:
Part 1 – Ultima Online 1997
Part 2 – EverQuest 1999
Part 3 – Asheron’s Call 1999
Part 4 – Anarchy Online 2001
Part 5 – Dark Age of Camelot 2001
Part 6 – Star Wars Galaxies 2003
Part 7 – EverQuest II 2004
Part 8.1 – World of Warcraft 2004-05
Part 8.2 – World of Warcraft 2005-06
Part 9 – Wildstar 2014
Part 10 – Guild Wars 2005
Part 11 – Dungeons & Dragons Online 2006
Expansion packs aren’t uncommon with MMORPGs. Up until January 2007, games like EverQuest had 12 expansion packs under its belt and Star Wars: Galaxies had three major expansions. Whilst all great content additions for those games, it took Blizzard just over two years to produce their first expansion. The reason I’m giving WoW’s expansions a focus over other games is sheer numbers, both in initial sales and subscriptions to the game at that time, as well as some great innovative game system updates.
The first expansion for WoW was titled The Burning Crusade and was released on January 16, 2007 This expansion cost players US$39.99. Prior to the expansion’s release, WoW was sitting around 7.5 million monthly subscribers, dwarfing any other MMORPG on the market. Players didn’t have to buy this expansion, but the base game and dungeons were getting stale. A lot of players looked the same as there were limited gear sets at end-game and limited ‘cookie-cutter’ builds to optimise each class. If you were a new player to the game at this point in time, you must outlay US$49.99 for the base game, US$39.99 for the expansion pack and then after the 30-day free period, pay the US$14.99 monthly subscription fee. You can see that as games like this added expansion packs, the entry price point for late newcomers to the game was starting to become more than the cost of the standard PC game.
On the first day of Burning Crusade’s release in Europe and North America, Blizzard had sold a whopping 2.4 million copies, making it the fastest selling PC game of its time. This figure climbed to 3.5 million after the first month working out to just under US$140 million income, in addition to the monthly subscriptions. Burning Crusade increased the level cap from 60 to 70, added a whole new planet called Outland with associated new quests and dungeons to explore, two new races were introduced, and we saw the introduction of jewelcrafting and flying mounts.
With Vanilla WoW, the Shaman class was exclusive to the Horde faction, limited to Orcs, Trolls and Taurens, and the Paladin class was exclusive to the Alliance faction, limited to Human and Dwarf races. I liked how these two classes were unique to each faction and limited to some races as this helped to create a difference and uniqueness between the factions. To me, Paladins in Dungeons & Dragons lore were always lawful good characters and Shamans were generally evil clerics. I had levelled a Dwarf Paladin (Dunstabme) on Alliance and a Tauren Shaman (Kirksmirker) on Horde and loved playing ‘both sides of the story’. Both classes were helpful to groups on both sides of the Horde v Alliance war in PvP, and both contributed well to PvE raids. However, players on both sides claimed the opposing class was too overpowered compared to the other.
The two new playable races introduced were Draenei for the Alliance and Blood Elves for the Horde and whilst great for new players, this also gave old players the chance to start fresh with two whole new races which each had an outstanding backstory. Blizzard allowed players to make Draenei Shamans and Blood Elf Paladins which, in my opinion, took away the uniqueness of those classes for the factions. This was done to try balance both PvE raids and PvP and to stop either side complaining about the other being overpowered. I think Blizzard took the easy way out here by giving both sides access to both classes as opposed to creating more unique classes, but many players welcomed the opportunity. I can understand from a class-balance design point-of-view with a game of this size, it’d be a nightmare having to work out balances for two factions as opposed to just letting everyone access everything.
As these types of AAA MMORPG’s were evolving, the worlds were getting bigger and the lands to explore were becoming vast. So much so that it was a necessity to get yourself a player mount. In the base game, you could purchase yourself a ground-based mount like horses, wolves or sabres. Once you had travelled through the Dark Portal into Outland and reached the new level cap of 70, new flying mounts were available to purchase, a first for MMORPGs. You would need to fork out 800 gold to learn Expert Riding, then you could buy a gryphon or windrider mount for another 100g. These flying mounts move at 60% speed both on land and in flight.
Eventually you could upgrade your flying skill to artisan which allows you to ride flying mounts that travel as fast as the flightpaths between towns, if you could afford it. The artisan skill cost players a whopping 5000 gold and artisan mounts cost 200g. It took me a long time to save up that much money but flying around Outland is worth the cost given the ease of travel between quests, allowing you to really take in the beautiful landscapes of the seven explorable zones. Pictured here is Johnny “Garbz” Garbin riding his Ashes of Al’ar mount that gives 310% movement speed at artisan flying level. On May 31, 2007, the guild <Method> on Sylvanas-EU saw the first world drop of this mount when they successfully brought down Kael’thas in Tempest Keep: The Eye raid.
After travelling through the Dark Portal in the old zone of Blasted Lands, the first Outland zone players travel to is Hellfire Peninsula which features scorched landscapes and introduces you to new PvP objectives added with BC. If your faction captured all three fortifications on this map, it would unlock extra quests and vendors for your faction which was a great incentive to work together. The neighbouring lands of Zangarmarsh were a contrast of forests and giant mushrooms, with one dungeon entrance located underwater that you had to swim to. This was before the dungeon finders were introduced.
Crafting is a big aspect of MMORPG’s and there were many options in WoW including blacksmithing, leatherworking, tailoring, engineering, enchanting and alchemy. Using gathering skills such as mining, skinning and herbalism created a supply of resources for these professions and was a great way to make money selling them to other players. Burning Crusade added a seventh profession to the game in the form of jewelcrafting. Prior to BC we had been looting rings, necklaces and trinkets but there was nothing to do with them except sell to vendors or to players. Now we could salvage and make our own with jewelcrafting. We could also cut the gems we had been finding through the mining skills and add them to new socketed items which were only found in Outland. This meant low-level jewelcrafters had to buy or be fed items from higher level characters. Socketed items had been seen before in Dungeons and Dragons Online, but this new crafting profession for WoW really made jewelcrafting unique.
With all the new gear that was available in Outlands came the term ‘gated progression’. All classes in the game have access to unique sets of end-game gear and in the base WoW game, you were able to achieve gear at Tiers 1, 2 and 3. Game on AUS Legendary Legends streamer Menthonso remembers playing BC with his gaming mate Reece (Echryth) remembers this well. Gated progression meant you had to progress from one level of difficulty in order to have powerful enough gear to then tackle the next difficulty content. You started off by doing normal 5-man dungeon runs gearing up and earning enough faction reputation to reach honoured which enabled you to buy keys to do heroic dungeons. This increased the difficulty of the dungeons which gave you access to much better loot. You would then grind enough heroic dungeons to earn your very first piece of epic gear as well armour tokens to buy more gear. These armour tokens dropped in BC’s first raids of Karazhan, Gruul’s Lair and Magtheridon’s Lair. Completing these netted you ‘the Fallen’ tokens which were turned in for Tier 4 epic gear.
The gear progression then went to Tier 5 where you’d get ‘the Vanquished’ armour tokens from completing Serpentshrine Cavern and Tempest Keep: The Eye. The final boss in Tempest Keep remained uncleared for 130 days given the difficulty of the raid, the second longest time to kill a raid boss behind Ragnaros in the Molten Core (154 days). The final gear tier at this point in the game was Tier 6 where ‘the Forgotten’ tokens were dropped in Battle for Mount Hyjal, Black Temple and Sunwell Plateau. You could take one look at a player’s gear and tell what tier they were which then told you what kind of player they were. Casual raiders like myself wore tier 4 gear, semi-hardcore raiders wore tier 5, and the hardcore power players wore tier 6. I didn’t have the time to commit to those harder raids so I never sore that high-level gear but had plenty of guildmates that did.
As you can see by now, there was a tonne of content added with the Burning Crusade, however there is one more aspect that really raised Blizzard and WoW’s profile and that is PvP Arenas and the World of Warcraft Arena Tournament. Like battlegrounds, Arenas are instanced playfields where teams of players fight against each other. There were two Arenas released initially – The Ring of Trials in Nagrand and the Circle of Blood in the Blade’s Edge Mountains and you had to be level 70 to play. Players could fight in 2v2, 3v3 or 5v5 battles. Teams had to maintain playing 10 ranked games per week to earn arena points at the end of that week. These arena points could be turned in for seasonal PvP armour sets.
I started playing with guild mates initially but as I was playing a melee-based paladin, I and other melee classes in my guild found that lag would prevent our hits from hitting the enemy, yet the enemy would hit us. Damn Aussie pings and lag!! The World of Warcraft Arena Tournament was focused on rated 5v5 arenas and teams could raise their ranking by defeating other teams. The tournament consisted of two qualifying rounds, live regional tournaments and then culminating in a final showdown at BlizzCon 2007, thus ending season 1.
By the end of 2007, WoW’s monthly subscription numbers had climbed to a staggering 10 million players paying US$14.99 per month and the game had become a worldwide phenomenon. One aspect that contributed to this success is due to some clever marketing commercials starring William Shatner and Mr T, as well as an advert for the Toyota Tacoma pickup truck (four wheels of fury!). I know for me personally, they sucked me back into WoW after I had been off the WoW-crack drug for a while playing other games. The Night-Elf Mohawk particularly had me chuckling (shutup fool!).
If you have memories of playing WoW’s The Burning Crusade expansion, I’d love to hear about them! Join the Game on AUS – God Mode closed Facebook group where you’ll be welcomed, and we can reminisce the old days.