But it wasn't just the world that was different. The Burning Crusade took the game we'd been playing for a little over two years and tweaked it with small improvements that affect the way we play the game even today. It pioneered the definition of what an expansion was, in the WoW universe, and paved the way for the expansions to follow. The Burning Crusade still ranks high on many players' favorite expansion lists, including my own. Finding five reasons to love it? That's a complete walk in the park. Picking just five to show you ... that's a little harder!
Imagine a World of Warcraft in which the fastest mount you could ever obtain was the 100% ground variety. The skies above remained just that -- above. The only way you could fly in the game was via flight paths that took you on carefully directed flights over the scenic landscape. Soaring through the skies of our own volition was something that was utterly unobtainable, and we were never meant to take flight in them. It wasn't possible. The way Azeroth was constructed in 2004 took a lot of shortcuts with the art of landscape design, creating the illusion of a lush, three-dimensional world -- but flying over that world would reveal those shortcuts and allow players to fly through the map in some areas.
Enter The Burning Crusade. Since Outland was an entirely different world, nowhere on Azeroth proper, it could be built from the ground up in an entirely different fashion -- one that avoided the graphical pitfalls of Azeroth, constructed in a seamless, three-dimensional fashion ... one that would allow our characters, at last, to take to the skies and fly uninhibited by predirected paths, free to soar to our heart's content through Outland's compelling, entrancing skyboxes.
Needless to say, it changed the way we look at the world forever. Players had to reach level 70 before they could fly, so there was plenty of time to walk Outland's paths, admiring those upper vistas just out of reach. And when players hit level 70, they could mount up and reach all those places they'd only admired from afar.
4. Heroics and raids
Heroic dungeons simply did not exist until The Burning Crusade. These dungeons offered a slightly more difficult experience with the promise of greater rewards. Well ... it was supposed to be slightly, but the first iteration of heroic dungeons was so mind-meltingly difficult that it was nerfed relatively quickly into something players could enjoy. Enjoy without swearing a blue streak at the rapidly respawning trash that they needed to clear after the first wipe to a new and incredibly difficult boss.
Despite that, what heroics offered was something that we hadn't seen before -- accessibility, real accessibility to endgame content and gear that didn't involve raiding. Prior to The Burning Crusade, the only purple gear you'd find was either available through a mind-numbing PVP grind, a complicated quest chain, raiding, or if you were extraordinarily lucky, an ultra-rare world drop. The amount of epics available outside raiding was slim, and if you didn't raid, it wasn't terribly likely you'd ever see your character decked out in purples, much less have a lot of options for content once you hit level 70.
In addition, The Burning Crusade saw the introduction of smaller raids. Gone were the days of 40-man behemoth guilds. Instead, raids were separated into 10- and 25-man content. It was a rough change for many guilds, but it put an end to the struggle to recruit and the hassle of trying to keep 40 players entertained and focused on one task. And for those who didn't have the time to try and recruit 40 people in classic, the option to simply find nine other players and try out raid content was a much easier alternative.
3. Daily quests
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm crazy. But in classic WoW, once you finished questing to level 60, you were pretty much done with quests. There was nothing left to do. Either you joined a 40-man raiding team, you tried your hand with the PVP system, or you ran the same dungeons over and over to collect your dungeon set. If the latter, once that set was complete, there was nothing to do. More importantly, once you completed quests, there was absolutely no way to make gold in game other than the small amount you got from killing random mobs or trying to sell items on the Auction House.
Heroic dungeons were half of the solution to that dilemma; the other half was daily quests. Suddenly, there was a reason to log on every day -- and there was a much easier alternative to making gold for those who didn't want to step into the Auction House and try their hand at selling items. In classic WoW, level 60 meant that you were at a perpetual state of being completely broke -- even raiders, especially raiders, because they had to pay for mass quantities of consumables and monstrous repair bills every evening they spent raiding. This gave all players an easy access to daily gold that helped mitigate the sting of repair bills and allowed the economy to flourish.
2. New races, new classes
For the first time, both Alliance and Horde were able to play shaman and paladin classes. In classic, there was no choice -- if you wanted to play a paladin, you were Alliance; if you wanted to play a shaman, you were Horde. This left players feeling like the sides were unbalanced, as paladins had advantages shaman didn't and vice versa. By introducing the classes to both sides, players could feel free to play on whichever side of the faction fence they wanted and still be able to play the class that they loved.
In addition, two new races were introduced -- the Draenei and the Blood Elves. Though the Blood Elves had been featured in previous Warcraft games, the Draenei were an entirely foreign, new element to the Warcraft universe. The starting areas for these races were a breathtaking, streamlined and easy experience compared to the starting areas from classic WoW, and the stories behind these races were entirely compelling.
In fact, they weren't just compelling -- they tied neatly together with the theme of the expansion itself and drove the story forward. If we had not had the Draenei and the Blood Elves, The Burning Crusade as an expansion wouldn't have had a story. The Sunwell wouldn't have been a factor, the Naaru wouldn't have been introduced, and almost none of the story progression we saw from the beginning of The Burning Crusade to the last days of raiding would have come to pass. The races weren't just new and interesting to play -- they were the driving force behind the story of the expansion itself.
Which leads neatly to the #1 reason you should love The Burning Crusade ...
1. Driven storytelling
It may not seem like a huge reason when you look at it, but there's a reason it's #1 -- and it's not just my being obsessed with lore here. Classic WoW was well and good, and there were plenty of reasons to love it, but what it lacked was any sort of drive or impetus. While Alliance players got an amazing storyline behind Onyxia's deception and a good reason to kill her, Horde players didn't see very much of that on their end. Molten Core seemed like a good place to go and destroy Ragnaros, but the story behind why we had to kill him was muddied and tangled in endless runs of Blackrock Depths.
AQ-40 started on the right direction. The world event surrounding the Old God's sudden emergence was riveting, and Naxxramas had some solid reasons for us to venture into its halls as well. But the overall story arc of classic WoW was simply ... absent. We fought in random raids all over the world, with no real thread connecting them all. They were simply dangerous things that needed to be put down before they could wreak any further havoc. The cohesiveness just wasn't there.
Enter The Burning Crusade. From the moment we stepped through the Dark Portal and into Outland, we had a purpose and a reason for being there. Each dungeon we completed tied into that overall story, whether it was the fel orcs of Hellfire Citadel, Vashj's attempts to harness control of all of the world's water, or the madness of Kael'thas and his Blood Elf followers. Each raid had a strong reason for us to be there, one that contributed to the overarching story. Even the raid attunements, as tedious as they may have been, further showed us the reasons why we were there and why it was important that we continue to do what we were doing.
And just when we thought that story was done, just when we'd tied everything up with Illidan, Blizzard threw a curveball and brought out the return of Kael'thas and the imminent threat of Kil'jaeden. The Burning Crusade introduced two new races and then neatly wrapped up the thematic story behind those races. The Blood Elves found themselves dealing with a traitorous leader, and the Draenei managed to pull everyone together, Alliance and Horde alike, to defeat one of the Burning Legion's top members. The Blood Elves saw their precious Sunwell restored, and the Draenei saw a further continuation in their task to spread the message of the Light and found worthy allies to help them continue their task.
The Burning Crusade wasn't just an expansion -- it was an exercise in mass directive storytelling, and it worked, beginning to end. Unlike the somewhat static world of classic WoW, The Burning Crusade took the plunge and immersed players in a world that had a purpose, making sure that the players were well aware, from beginning to end, that they had a purpose too. It made for an ultimately satisfying expansion and left us free to head home feeling like we'd accomplished something, free to continue with our next task ... taking on the Lich King.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria is the next expansion, raising the level cap to 90, introducing a brand new talent system, and bringing forth the long-lost Pandaren race to both Horde and Alliance. Check out the trailer and follow us for all the latest MoP news!