WoW Archivist: The Gates of Ahn'Qiraj

The WoW Archivist explores the secrets of World of Warcraft's past. What did the game look like years ago? What secrets does the game still hold? If you enjoyed Patches of Yesteryear, you're going to love this.

Readers have requested that the Archivist cover the opening of Ahn'Qiraj a number of times since the reboot of this feature. The original intent was to explore it when we reached that point in our journey through the patch notes of old, but I bow to the demands of the masses on this one.

The Gates of Ahn'Qiraj was one of World of Warcraft's first attempts at a massive, server-wide world event. Ahn'Qiraj didn't simply open when it was patched in, like every other raid zone in WoW. It had to be opened by the players, and how quickly or how slowly it opened depended purely on the population's participation. The event was plagued with chains of server crashes and other such performance problems, but ask any truly old-school WoW player and they will almost certainly list this event as one of their fondest WoW memories.


Gathering war supplies

There was a lot of preparation players had to deal with before the gates could be opened. There were two primary branches of this prep work: gathering war supplies and reconstructing the Scepter of Shifting Sands. The Scepter quest chain was aimed at raiders with access to high-end content. Anybody could contribute war supplies to the cause, however. Players needed to gather hundreds of thousands of items.

Both factions needed to gather:

  • 90,000 Copper Bars

  • 26,000 Purple Lotus

  • 80,000 Thick Leather

  • 17,000 Spotted Yellowtail

  • 400,000 Runecloth Bandages

The Alliance needed to gather:

  • 28,000 Iron Bars

  • 24,000 Thorium Bars

  • 20,000 Arthas' Tears

  • 33,000 Stranglekelp

  • 180,000 Light Leather

  • 110,000 Medium Leather

  • 20,000 Roast Raptor

  • 14,000 Rainbow Fin Albacore

  • 800,000 Linen Bandages

  • 600,000 Silk Bandages

The Horde needed to gather:

  • 22,000 Tin Bars

  • 18,000 Mithril Bars

  • 96,000 Peacebloom

  • 19,000 Firebloom

  • 60,000 Heavy Leather

  • 60,000 Rugged Leather

  • 10,000 Lean Wolf Steak

  • 10,000 Baked Salmon

  • 250,000 Wool Bandages

  • 250,000 Mageweave Bandages

Those are big numbers. This wasn't an effort that was over in a day or in a weekend. This took weeks to complete. Someone couldn't just go and bang out 800,000 Linen Bandages on their own. It was an event that required the entire server to cooperate.

While at its base it's just a lot of grinding, the event gave you a true sense of scale. The war effort needed these supplies. If you needed some of it for yourself, good luck finding it on the auction house for anything resembling a reasonable price. It wasn't going to happen. There was a linen shortage. A thorium shortage. A leather shortage. The world was going to war, and you had to decide who needed the resources more: you or the world. If the answer was you, did you have the financial fortitude to buy a stack of linen for 100 gold?

This event also encouraged a lot of cross-faction cooperation. I remember, as an Alliance player, farming up Lean Wolf Steaks because it was easier for Alliance players to get their hands on the meat, thanks to Duskwood's proximity to Stormwind. The Horde wasn't gathering their steaks very quickly, so I went out and cooked up a few hundred of them and put the stacks up on the neutral auction house cheap. The Horde returned the favor by listing Roast Raptor cheap, because that one was easier for them.

There has never been an event since then that encouraged so much cooperation between players. All other world events pale in comparison to the sheer scale of this one. No other event has made grinding out thousands of senseless items feel so urgent or important, either.

The Scepter of the Shifting Sands

I'll be honest -- I don't want to talk about this entire quest chain in detail, so I won't. I'll just provide an overview. It's incredibly long and involved and I could easily dedicate a good 10,000 words just outlining the effort required to complete it, how every quest was done, and the costs involved. This was the most "epic" quest chain in World of Warcraft, unquestionably. The challenges it required you to face were substantial. This is no "kill 10 rats." It was pure dedication.

To reassemble the Scepter of the Shifting Sands, you had to acquire three shards that had been distributed to the red, blue and green dragonflights.

  • Red Shard The red shard was entrusted to Vaelestraz, who old-school players may know as the second boss of Blackwing Lair. Vael was hunting down Nefarian to rid the world of him, but it didn't go so well. Nefarian beat, broke and enslaved Vael and took the scepter shard from him. To get the shard, you had to start the quest at Vael, kill him, and clear Blackwing Lair (including Nefarian) in five hours. If you killed Nefarian but failed to do it within five hours, he dropped From the Desk of Lord Victor Nefarius instead.

  • Blue Shard Easily the most involved step of the entire process, the blue shard sent you all over creation following Azuregos's wacky ramblings. Learn draconic, kill multiple unique outdoor raid bosses, assemble a fishing buoy crafted out of the most expensive crafting materials in the game, then cap it off by killing Maws, another outdoor raid boss fished up with the buoy that broadcasted a server-wide message on death, alerting every player online that you had done the deed.

  • Green Shard After killing a boatload of corrupt green dragons, you head to Moonglade to tackle corrupt green dragon prime: Eranikus. This was a server-wide event in Moonglade that required the participation of more than one raid group. Tyrande and Keeper Remulos work together to purge the corruption from Eranikus, so you could get your hands on the green shard. Again, this event would broadcast a server-wide message notifying players that it was happening. This event was easily griefable; rival raid groups that didn't want you to finish your scepter could set themselves at war with the Cenarion Circle and kill Keeper Remulos. Remulos dies, you fail.

Oh, and before you can do any of this? Any of it at all? You needed to kill Broodlord Lashlayer in Blackwing Lair, loot his head (only one person per kill), and turn it in down in Silithus so you can grind bronze dragonflight reputation from "we're going to murder you" to "we're vaguely aware of your presence." This required grinding thousands upon thousands of elite silithid mobs with a roaming pack of your closest friends.

This quest chain was a massive undertaking when you had a raid group of friends to help you. Your raid would choose someone to champion, and everybody would work together to get that person the Scepter of the Shifting Sands. Even with 40+ people working together, this quest chain could take weeks. After the end of vanilla WoW, players started undertaking this quest chain solo, assuming The Burning Crusade would make it all trivial. It didn't. Someone trying to complete this quest chain solo, quite simply, couldn't. Not even in Wrath of the Lich King. You could make progress with a few friends helping you, but it wasn't at all uncommon for it to take years to complete this quest chain as a casual player. Not days. Not weeks. Years.

Some people would call it inaccessible. Me? I would call it badass.

It was all removed in patch 4.0.3, the patch that introduced all of Cataclysm's world changes.

Banging the gong

Once all of the war supplies have been gathered, it took five days for all of it to be transported to Silithus by NPCs. As the days passed, there would be less and less doodads lying around Ironforge and Orgrimmar, and more appearing down in Silithus. After five days have passed, if someone had completed the Scepter, then they could ring the gong. Ringing the gong caused the following server-wide message to appear:

(Gong Ringer's Name), Champion of the Bronze Dragonflight, has rung the Scarab Gong. The ancient gates of Ahn'Qiraj open, revealing the horrors of a forgotten war...

The Gates of Ahn'Qiraj shattered, and the Qiraji poured forth. This was a 10-hour event, wherein the combined forces of the Horde and the Alliance, with High Overlord Varok Saurfang as their Supreme Commander, had to stop the Qiraji before they could overrun Silithus and eventually Kalimdor. The qiraji General Rajaxx commanded the opposing forces, and an endless flow of silithids and anub'isaths flooded Silithus. Every one of those mobs was a minor raid boss, and players truly had to work together to bring them all down.

The spoils of war were worth it, too; many of the bosses you encountered over this 10-hour period were capable of dropping bind on equip items. One of the rarest epics in the game for years was Teebu's Blazing Longsword. It was rare because it could only drop off of elite mobs higher than level 60, of which there were very few. Teebu's had a less than 0.01% drop rate. If you saw a Teebu's Blazing Longsword during vanilla WoW, chances were very good it was found during the battle for Ahn'Qiraj and had made the rounds on the auction house many times, with nobody willing to equip it. Teebu's was a larger sign of status than legendaries like Thunderfury or Sulfuras.

This battle stretched across all of Kalimdor, with qiraji resonating crystals summoning mobs for players of all ages to tackle. The fate of Kalimdor rested in our hands over the course of a grueling 10-hour battle.

This was a truly massive battle -- probably the only one World of Warcraft will ever see. Why will we never see one again? Well, because they break everything. You have probably all experienced what happened to Northrend when Wintergrasp was in progress in early Wrath of the Lich King. Multiply that by a hundred. We're not just talking server crashes (though that certainly did happen). We're talking things breaking. There was horrendous lag, hour-long queues to get onto servers, servers constantly losing peoples' locations upon death and porting them to the default graveyards in Stonetalon and Westfall, and boats doing all sorts of crazy things.

Sometimes the boat to Kalimdor would simply disappear from underneath everybody aboard it, dumping them into fatigue waters, where they would meet a watery grave. Sometimes the boat would hit the loading screen and never leave it. Sometimes you would hit a loading screen, stay on it for 20 minutes, then find yourself on a ghost ship in the middle of a grey miasma under the world, with no idea of where you actually were.

Despite all of the problems, all of the frustrations, all of the failures ... you'll still find countless vanilla WoW players who consider the opening of Ahn'Qiraj to be one of the funnest days they've ever had in the game. It was a completely unique experience. Even if you didn't get to participate in the battle and only experienced the crippling bugs and glitches the server instability caused, you probably had a bit of a laugh and saw things you otherwise wouldn't have. It was an experience you might never have again.

And you never will have it again. As of patch 3.0.8, back in February 2009, the Gates of Ahn'Qiraj always defaults to being open, even on new realms. The North American realm Borean Tundra was the final realm to experience this event. As of patch 4.0.3, all of the architecture that supported the event is gone. It will never happen again -- not intentionally, not through a glitch, and not through a miracle.

Many thanks to the following people for contributing screenshots to this piece: Jadiera of Cenarion Circle (US), Ruana of Llane (US), Nynaeve of Eldre'Thalas (US), Unbarc of Kael'thas (US), Aothereon of Venture Co (EU), Trogar of Agamaggan (EU), and Brajana of Hydraxis (US).

The WoW Archivist examines the WoW of old. Follow along while we discuss beta patch 0.8, beta patch 0.9, and hidden locations such as the crypts of Karazhan.