We've come a long, long way, haven't we, since the days of Wailing Caverns? The dungeons of Pandaria are gorgeous, vivid, and varied. The bosses are dynamic and engaging. The best way to appreciate what Blizzard is doing now is to look back at what they were doing eight years ago.
Vanilla WoW's dungeons were not always so expertly crafted. Some dungeons, like Deadmines or Stratholme, were a big hit. Others, like Razorfen Downs, were not so warmly embraced. The popularity of vanilla's Wailing Caverns is not easy to nail down. For some, especially old school Horde players, they have fond memories of the place as the first real dungeon they experienced in WoW. For others, memories of endless hours wandering its unforgiving maze haunt them to this day.
One thing is certain: vanilla Wailing Caverns runs led to a lot of questions -- questions that we no longer have to ask today when we step into a dungeon. Here are seven of them!
1. Where are the quests for this place? Sure, with today's advanced map and minimap options, you can find the Wailing Caverns quests easily. Back in 2004, we had to find them the old-fashioned way. For Horde, a few could be obtained in Crossroads, where one would expect them by vanilla's rules, and Thunder Bluff, which was ... very much out of the way. Other quests were found in Ratchet -- which made sense as a neutral town that both Horde and Alliance could access. Two more, however, were hidden above the dungeon's entrance. You could only get there by running around to the top of the vaguely skull-shaped cave, dropping down on to the "nose," and then entering the right "eye." Considering these NPCs desperately need life-or-death favors from adventurers, they sure picked a dumb spot to hang out.
2. Where is the entrance? Vanilla not only lacked a dungeon finder to warp you magically to the inside of a dungeon. Just finding the dungeon entrance was almost a dungeon run in itself. Walking into the "mouth" of the cave led you into an area with twisting passageways full of elite mobs.
These passages had their own dangers. A small pool that seemed safe enough actually housed an elite Lurker. Infamously, a hole in one of the cavern floors would drop you down into a pit with more elites. The fall claimed the lives of many unfortunate characters who weren't watching their step.
Incidentally, all those elite mobs outside meant your entire group had to exit the dungeon and clear them if you wanted to bring in a new party member.
Once you fought your way through to the dungeon portal, the fun was just starting.
3. Weren't we here before? Take a gander at that original map below. It looks like the Flying Spaghetti Monster mating with an Aztec symbol for Thunder Rooster. Keep in mind, all of those passages looked the same: brown caves with mushrooms, stalactites/-mites, and occasional patches of water and vegetation. Most of the trash and the bosses were also very similar (more on that later), and the trash would respawn quite fast by today's standards. When you entered Wailing Caverns for the first time, it was pretty much inevitable that your party would get horrendously lost.
Keep in mind, also, that the map was not available in-game. Dungeons had no maps. You were on your own. Players complain about the linearity of today's dungeons but I simply cannot imagine running the original mapless Wailing Caverns with a dungeon finder group.
4. Why are you just standing there? The mobs in WC love to sleep. They love it so much that they treat everyone else to helpful doses of it. Fewer classes and specs had access to dispel effects back then. For most party compositions, if you got sleeped, you were going to stay that way till it wore off -- especially if you were the healer. On the plus side, if you survived, your character would be quite refreshed for the next pull.
5. Wait -- did we just fight a boss? I remember being surprised when an interesting piece of loot dropped, like a piece from the Fang set (which at that point was made up of greens). No one in the group had realized that we were fighting a boss. Half of WC's bosses were druids that looked pretty much exactly like the druid mobs in trash packs. They didn't have particularly memorable or challenging abilities either. Sometimes the only way to figure out if you had, indeed, fought a boss was to click on bodies until you found one with a proper name.
Of course, some of the bosses stood out, like the awesome blue kodo Skum and the "end" boss, Verdan the Everliving.
6. Whoa, did I just fall? Speaking of Verdan, do you remember the jump you had to make just before his room? Oh, that jump ...
You had fought your way through the winding maze, the darn crowd controlling druids, the nonbosses, and finally found yourself on the path to the dungeon's "final" boss. You're looking ahead to the next pull when you suddenly plummet into a watery area full of things that want to eat you. Chat/Vent would light up with profanity like the third base stands at a Phillies game when the Mets are in town.
That's generally what happened the first time you got there, when you didn't know the jump existed. It wasn't exactly the most obvious, easy-to-see gap in a video game. Now you got to run all the way back through the dungeon to that point -- that is, if you could even find your way. And, of course, if the trash at the beginning hadn't respawned while your group was lost in the maze. That meant everyone had to go back and reclear (even if you had a warlock, since locks didn't get their summon spell until much higher level).
Once you knew it was there, it was pretty easy to jump across it, but people always seemed to mess it up anyway. If a DPS fell, you could keep pulling while they made their way back. If it was a tank or a healer, everyone gets a bio break.
7. Is that it? In the pre-achievement era, it wasn't always obvious whether you had completed a dungeon or not. Many players never actually knew about the real final boss in Wailing Caverns. To access this boss, you had to run all the way back to the dungeon's entrance to that weird tauren who kindly buffed you. Assuming you managed to find and kill all four fang lords, the NPC triggered an escort quest to the strangely empty dead-end room you didn't understand when you found it earlier.
Once there, the tauren disciple attempted to awaken his master while you faced waves of murlocs, followed by megamurloc Mutanus the Devourer. When you combine "murloc" with "event," how could the result be anything but awesome? It was. Sadly, many people in vanilla never experienced it.
Imagine killing Mr. Smite, then running all the way back to the beginning of Deadmines to start an escort quest that eventually led to the final encounter with VanCleef. Imagine that most people never went beyond that point and never faced VanCleef himself. That's kind of what it was like.
It's bittersweet to me that Vanilla's version of Wailing Caverns no longer exists. In patch 4.1, Blizzard finally streamlined the maze aspect of the dungeon. The infamous jump is, alas, no more.
For all its faults, Wailing Caverns was successful on one level: for better or worse, venturing into it always felt like an adventure. Sometimes that adventure was unpleasant, but it was usually memorable. In this age of betas, in-game maps, and easy access to walkthroughs, that feeling of adventure is largely lost. I have to admit, I miss that aspect sometimes. What about you?
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