Population Slump

I first started playing World of Warcraft around 2007, on one of those seven day trial codes they sold at game stores for a pittance. It was my first brush with the MMO genre, and as such, remains a unique experience in my memory, with both good and bad memories.

The first character I created to explore this new world with was a Night Elf rogue. The Night Elf starting zone takes place on a giant tree/island called Teldrassil, covered with gargantuan vegetation, dank caves, claustrophobic networks of burrows and a number of small towns – in addition to the night elf capital city of Darnassus. The thing that stuck me initially upon starting to play was the sheer number of people around. The glen that was home to the game’s tutorial was bustling with players sprinting about the surrounding meadows, swimming in the ponds, or conversing with one another. There was a liveliness to the place that I hadn’t experienced in any game previously – primarily because I knew that all of these characters were being controlled by real people, each going about on their own adventures and quests. Beautifully orchestrated harps and flutes played in the background, lending a mysterious tone to the area. I set about chatting with strangers and forming groups with other players to overcome the game’s initial quests, and became quite immersed in the dreamy atmosphere of the island.

However, this slowly began to change as I progressed. The rest of Teldrassil was slightly less populated; areas of the island away from the towns and inns only had one or two people in them at most. Upon reaching the capital city of Darnassus, I couldn’t help but notice how empty it felt. Part of this could be blamed on the sheer size of the city – it was much more open than any of the townships I had passed through before, so the player population was much more spread out as a result, leaving the impression that the place was quieter and less busy. However, having seen gameplay of the human capital city of Stormwind beforehand, it was clear there was a massive difference in general player numbers. The auction house in Stormwind were thronging with crowds of players bidding on various wares, whereas mine was completely abandoned.

Regardless, I pressed on further with my adventures, and took a boat from a dock on the edge of Teldrassil to the mainland of the neighbouring continent, Kalimdor. The ship drops players off at the coastal zone of Darkshore, and seeing it for the first time was a memorable moment. The draw distance fog slowly parted and gave way to a long stretch of seaside strand, behind which a forest of tall, thin coniferous trees stood. The atmosphere of the area was quite bleak and dismal – everything was tainted with grey, from the cloudy sky, to the sand on the dunes. Oppressive, droning strings, flutes and drums played in the background, further adding to the depressing ambience of the place.

Thankfully, the port town of Auberdine was pretty lively, with plenty of players going about their business. I quested throughout the zone, exploring ancient ruins haunted by wraiths, massacring various unique species in the local ecosystem, and fighting against a sinister apocalyptic cult amongst the skeletal remains of some great leviathan, before I moved into the neighbouring zone of Ashenvale.

Ashenvale was similar to Teldrassil in terms of appearance, sharing many of the same atmospheric hallmarks of the island – massive deciduous trees, a faint haze in the distance, wooden buildings, etc. It was also the largest zone I had been to yet, and traversing it on foot was no easy task. After some initial questing, I reached the central town of Astranaar. To my dismay, the place was a ghost town – without a soul to be seen. Although Ashenvale had been very quiet up to this point, I had expected the town to have at least a few players in it, considering it was the hub of the zone. Unfortunately, I was wrong; the adventure-centre atmosphere of the previous zones was completely gone. I journeyed on in any case, but the game soon become quite boring and lonely without other players to distract me from the repetitive nature of questing. Logically, I knew future zones would be equally as empty, if not more so. I missed the regular tick of the general chat, and the occasional small talk between players as we waited for a monster to respawn. Finding a group to explore the nearby dungeon of Blackfathom Deeps, a sunken temple network infested with sea beasts, was a nigh-impossible task, and during the times I was lucky enough to do so, real-life obligations prevented me from reaching the end, which, naturally, contains the best loot and the coolest enemies.

Despite the seclusion of the zone, it did provide some unique and memorable experiences. For instance, a large gang of mostly powerful Horde players from neighbouring zones would sometimes roll into Astranaar on horseback and slaughter every NPC in sight. I’m unsure as to exactly why they did this, because they gained nothing from it, and there wasn’t really anyone in town that could truly rebel against them, or provide them with any kind of engaging fight. Regardless, I actually kind of liked it when this roving death mob showed up. Although they were a bit of an inconvenience to me, as I needed the NPCs to be alive in order to complete my quests, and despite being unable to communicate with them, as a result of a gameplay-imposed language barrier, they broke the monotony and loneliness that usually pervaded the area. Occasionally I would even manage to kill one of the slower, weaker players before being quickly cut down by their max level protectors. Sometimes, a revenge mob of Alliance players from distant lands would pass through the town, mounted on their own steeds, giving chase to the Horde group. I didn’t have my own mount, so I was never able to ride with them and take part in, or even see, a proper battle between the two sides. Every time one of these groups of well-geared Alliance players showed up, I felt as though I was missing out on something cool happening somewhere in the world, way, way away from me.

Eventually, I received quests in Ashenvale that sent me over to the neighbouring region of the Stonetalon Mountains, a narrow zone that was packed with hostile monsters, and quite irritating to traverse as a result. It was during a quest over there, drenched in rain and surrounded by a wasteland of burnt trees, that I decided to escape the emptiness of this land and migrate to the second continent known as the Eastern Kingdoms, which was mainly Alliance controlled and much livelier as a result. Being without a mount, or (unfortunately) the knowledge that a mage could instantly transport me to Stormwind using a portal, I carried out this journey on foot. It was quite a time-consuming trip to make, but it also exposed me to the sheer scale and diversity of the world of Azeroth.

The first part of my trip was to double back to Auberdine, all the way back in Darkshore. This was an uneventful journey in itself, although it was nice to leave behind the depressing landmarks of Ashenvale that I had come to loathe – particularly the quiet watchtower at the edge of the zone. When I finally arrived at Auberdine, I ran out onto the pier and took a boat headed to Menethil Harbour, a Dwarven port town in the Wetlands, a coastal zone on the western edge of the Eastern Kingdoms. Upon arriving, the change in ambience was immediately noticeable – the music, architecture, vegetation, NPCs and players were all completely different from the Night Elf zones. The large, open-air inns of Kalimdor were replaced with small, cosy taverns, complete with a fireplace blazing away beside the bar. In place of the monstrous plants of Ashenvale were drooping trees that one would expect to find in, well, a wetland. A large stonework keep stood in the centre of town. The zone itself was swampy, humid and muggy, with a thick haze always visible on the horizon.

I checked out a complete map of the zone online to get my bearings, before setting off out of town, and into the Wetlands themselves. The zone was a little more dangerous than the ones before it – the enemies were quite a few levels higher than me, and wandered close to the road, or hid within murky pools of water nearby. Whilst stopped at a cross roads, checking the signs for directions, I met another Night Elf, who appeared to be in the same boat as myself. After talking with them for a few minutes, it transpired that I was right – the player was a girl who was moving this character to the human zones for her boyfriend. We set off together, chatting to pass the time, dodging raptors and passing by landmarks such as the giant archaeological quarry at the edge of the zone.

Eventually we reached a tunnel linking the Wetlands to the next zone – Dun Morogh. Dun Morogh was a cold mountainous region blanketed with snow and coniferous trees, as well as the odd frozen lake.  It was also home to the Dwarven capital city of Ironforge. The snowy weather and winterly scenery were a nice change of pace from the Wetlands, which had been the hardest part of the journey. The trek towards Ironforge was totally incident-free, as monsters steered well clear of the beaten path. On the rare occasion that we were attacked, the fight was over in seconds, as the enemies were many levels lower than ourselves – Dun Morogh was the Dwarven starting zone after all.

Ironforge itself was a spectacular sight, a large city carved into the side of the mountains that surrounded the zone, well above the valley floor. Parts of the city poked out of the cliff faces, dotted with windows filled with light from inside. To gain entrance to the place, one had to run up a long, sloping path that led to a huge metal door which served as the gate to the city. Inside the gate stood a massive Dwarven statue raising two weapons above his head in a triumphant pose. Further within, the city offered warm respite from the freezing weather outside. Large fires blazed in the hearths found all over the cavernous stone and steel halls of the city. Huge supporting arcs stretched across the ceiling from one end of the place to the other. Shops and homes were studded along the bare rock walls and a river of molten rock flowed deep within a canal that circled the entire city. The place felt as though it was a world away from Darnassus. Located at the centre of the city was the eponymous forge of the capital. Molten liquid spilled forth from suspended wrought-iron cauldrons, into thick overflowing pools of the stuff. Players swooped by overhead on winged hippogryphs, or rode by on extravagant mounts. It was one of the most impressive moments of the game that I had experienced up to that point.

After seeing the sights and taking in the locales, I made my way over to Tinker Town, the Gnomish district of the city. Located here was a tunnel to the Deeprun Tram, a subway system that linked Ironforge to Stormwind. I made my way in and waited on the platform for the tram to arrive. My journey to Stormwind was almost over, and had taken quite some time, but was nonetheless pretty memorable and enjoyable overall. Eventually, the tram arrived and I quickly hopped on, eager not to be left behind. It shot off from a dead stop to max speed instantly, quickly whisking me away to Stormwind, breezing through narrow tunnels studded with spotlights. Around the midway point it passed through a glass tunnel that looked out onto an underwater seabed, covered in kelp, rocks, plumes of air and even a sunken ship. Soon thereafter, the tram finally arrived at its destination. I made my way out of the subway and into the Dwarven district of the city. I parted ways with my travel companion outside the tram entrance, promising to stay in touch with them and quest together in the future, although in reality that proved to be the last time I ever spoke with them.

I made my way through the grand, cobbled streets of Stormwind, which were packed with players of every race class and level, and out into Elwynn Forest, the human starting zone beyond. My journey was finally over – I had reached my destination and was ready to continue to progress my character, see new sights and undertake exciting adventures in these fresh lands. So what happened next, you might ask?

I levelled twice and didn’t play WoW again for the next five months.


One thought on “Population Slump

  1. You’ve perfectly described my beginnings on the game, as I was a Night Elf too as my first character (but a warrior rather than a rogue). I loved how busy it was when you first started out, but I agree that it was strange to see it so quiet in Darnassus. A good introduction to how it is for a lot of the game though – very quiet. I like to see lots of people around everywhere, like in Stormwind city.
    It was great to read through your post, thank you for sharing 🙂

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