Pilgrim's Bounty is one of those holidays where getting all the related achievements requires you to pay at least one visit to every capital city of both factions. Doing Pilgrim's Peril the other night brought back all kinds of memories, especially as I haven't actually played Alliance for quite a while, and it made me think about what I do and don't miss about the various capitals now that I don't see them as much anymore, even more so as all roads lead to Dalaran these days (figuratively anyway).
I think that my favourite WoW capital in the history of ever is still Stormwind, though I'll admit that a large part of my affection for it is probably pure nostalgia. Which WoW player could ever forget the first time they walked into a big city?
My very first character in WoW was a human paladin, and when I created her I had never played an MMO before. I remember wandering around Northshire and being quite impressed: Wow, this really is like a little world, there's this abbey and some caves and a brook and a pumpkin patch... Then I left the starter zone and Elwynn Forest seemed huge in comparison, it just seemed to go on forever! Then I got a quest to go to Stormwind and... yeah, my jaw just dropped when I crossed the bridge, beheld the massive statues and the epic music started playing in the background. That really put the "massive" into "massive multiplayer game" for me.
Also, while I had never played an MMO before and thus had no particular expectations of what a city should look like in one, I did have this general idea that I was playing in a fantasy world, and it certainly helped that Stormwind fits the cliché of many a "fantasy town" (sort of medieval, only cleaner and friendlier) to a T.
Later on I discovered less pleasant sides to the city as well, like lots of dumb players clogging up the auction house, dancing on the fountain and generally spouting stupidity in /say, but it never managed to quite ruin my love for the place.
My second favourite capital would have to be Darnassus, probably because my second character, and the first one that I played up to the level cap, was a night elf. It wasn't just that though, I also liked the serenity and beauty of the place, grass and trees and critters everywhere, and the houses so open and welcoming! (Though that kind of makes you wonder about night elf standards for privacy.)
The only reason I like Darnassus less than Stormwind is that it's simply an incredibly inconvenient place to be. Located at the very northern tip of Kalimdor, it's an awful starting point for pretty much any journey, and even within the city itself many frequently used services are simply too far away from each other. (No other city has the bank and the auction house that far apart for example.)
My favourite Horde captical undoubtedly has to be Thunder Bluff. Tauren and night elves are united in their passion for druidism and their love for nature, and it shows in their cities as well. Another green and peaceful place, also located in a gorgeous zone. (I love Mulgore.)
In terms of taking care of "necessities", Thunder Bluff is also unrivaled in regards to how close together it places important utility spots: Which other town has the reagent vendor wandering right past the bank and a forge and anvil only another three steps away?
I suppose it also helped that my first Horde character was a Tauren.
Thunder Bluff's biggest problem in my opinion is that it's located somewhat off the beaten track - not quite as bad as Darnassus, but it still requires a detour to get there from anywhere really.
The Exodar, the Alliance's newest capital, has a special place in my heart simply because I love the Draenei and adore their starter zone. The Exodar fits right in and that's ace in my eyes, even though it's not a proper city, just a crashed spaceship with a couple of funny-talking vendors inside.
In terms of being in an inconvenient location it's worse than Darnassus and Thunder Bluff put together and thus pretty much almost always abandoned, but on my Draenei mage I loved to go there by teleport whenever I needed the auction house. There is something to be said for the serene atmosphere that isn't unlike the one in Darnassus. Or maybe I just like the colour blue.
Orgrimmar, despite of being the Horde's most important capital, is already a little bit down the list. All the frequently visited NPCs are reasonably close together and it's a great starting point if you want to get anywhere in the old world, what with being located in central Kalimdor while also having a blimp connection to the Eastern Kingdoms right in front of the gates.
I think the main reason I don't like Orgrimmar all that much is simply its architecture. I remember rerolling Horde and coming to Orgrimmar for the first time, expecting to be awed in a similar fashion as I was by Stormwind. However, you guessed it... I wasn't. Orcs and trolls come across as somewhat primitive to be honest, and this is reflected by Orgrimmar's buildings being rather plain and crude. Orgrimmar is probably about as large as Stormwind, but not nearly as grand.
I have to say that this is one reason for me to not completely dread the rumours about Orgrimmar receiving a makeover by Garrosh in Cataclysm. I don't like him any more than the rest of the Horde population, but I have to admit that when I first set foot into Warsong Hold I was impressed. If he can make me feel the same way about Orgrimmar that will finally be something that I can actually say in his favour.
The Undercity is a place whose gloomy atmosphere I actually find weirdly appealing, but it traumatised me very badly back when I was new to the Horde and bad first impressions are hard to overcome sometimes.
I was still relatively new to the game when one day my main server was down for additional maintenance and I did what many a WoW addict does under such circumstances: I rolled an alt on another server, an undead warrior in this case. I happily quested away in Tirisfal Glades for a while until I got a quest to go and see someone in the Undercity... and proceeded to get horribly lost. I think I managed to get inside the city actually, but then I couldn't find my way out anymore and eventually despaired and logged off.
You might laugh at that now - I do for sure - but for someone who isn't used to playing games in three dimensions the Horde capitals can pose a serious challenge during the first visit. All the Alliance cities are more or less completely flat, not counting the fact that houses have upper floors, which you kind of expect.
The Horde cities on the other hand require you to think in three dimensions: Orgrimmar has the Cleft of Shadows as "basement", there's that path that's level with the rooftops in the Drag, and the Valley of Spirits is one floor up from the Valley of Strength. Thunder Bluff has the three central rises which appear to be on the same level on the map but aren't in practice, and can only be accessed via the spiral staircase in the centre or by circling around the outside via the bridges. And the Undercity... well, if you've ever been there you know what I mean.
Ironforge is my least favourite Alliance city simply because dwarves and gnomes are my least favourite Alliance races and I absolutely can't identify with this whole "living inside a big, dark cave" thing. I used to have my hearthstone there pre-BC because the proximity to Menethil Harbor made it the most convenient place to get around, but I always missed my night elven home.
Dalaran is a pretty city, similar in style to Stormwind, but in my current situation I can't like it very much simply because my PC isn't very good and it's a pain to do anything there with the way it bogs down my frame rate. I always just try to take care of business there quickly and then I'm off to somewhere else.
My relationship to Shattrath, the Dalaran of the BC era, has changed a lot over time. I remember when I got there for the first time and found out about the portals that allowed you to travel all over Old Azeroth easily - at the time I thought that this was an absolutely amazing feature, though more convenient travelling options all over have diluted its value since then. Towards the end of BC I started to get a bit jaded with it since it started to become annoyingly laggy at peak times, and people were parking their bloody netherdrakes all over the place, making it hard to find anything. And nowadays... nowadays it's simply a ghost town, which makes it slightly creepy. The NPCs are happily chattering away about the Aldor/Scryer conflict and the war, but nobody's home to care. /shudder
Did I forget anything? Oh yeah, Silvermoon, without a doubt the capital I care about the least. Even though I play one myself I'm still not too crazy about blood elves, and their city is so out of the way of everything that it's hardly ever worth visiting. In terms of architecture it's overly pompous, and the layout just feels impractical and unnatural - I feel that no matter where I want to go, I'm constantly forced to make weird U-turns. Also, to this day I'm not sure where the reagent vendor is, but I don't think I care anymore at this point.