Gnomeregan is one of those instances that everyone loves to hate. And I've been one of those people, chiming in whenever the subject came up with how annoyingly long and confusing it is and so on and so forth.
But then... something funny happened yesterday. Continuing my mission to do everything there is to do in the old world before it goes away, I stumbled upon this quest in Orgrimmar to kill the final boss of Gnomeregan. I wasn't thrilled at all, but decided to do it anyway. Might as well be thorough. As it turned out, there were even more quests inside the actual instance that I hadn't done before, so that was very convenient.
The really surprising thing however was that my mind was flooded with a huge amount of happy memories the very moment my priest entered the instance. What is this? Had I been suffering from reverse nostalgia all this time (where you only remember the bad things but not the good times)? Me? What an odd sensation.
Thinking about it some more, I realised that there were indeed plenty of things for me to love about Gnomeregan back in the day:
First off, I was Alliance before I was Horde, and for the Alliance there are very few instances that are more convenient to get to than Gnomer (only the Stockades in fact, though the Deadmines are probably close). Leave through the gates of Ironforge, turn right, and you're already almost there. Now, this may not mean much in today's world of dungeon finder teleports, but back then it was really helpful and made Gnomeregan very easy to get a group for. You didn't have to hang out in Ironforge for long to find a couple of people who were willing to come along.
It wasn't just the proximity to Ironforge though, there were also the quests. Gnomeregan has so many quests for Alliance players, it's silly. (The Horde shares a couple of them, but the Alliance gets so much more.) Back before old world levelling was nerfed to hell and back a trip to Gnomeregan was very much worth your while in terms of experience. And some of the rewards were nothing to be sneered at either, my night elf priest wore her Civinad Robes for quite a while (even if I thought they were extremely ugly), and every low level leather wearer drooled over the Triprunner Dungarees.
Many of the drops inside the instance are pretty damn good for their level as well. The Hydrocane may look silly to the eyes of an experienced player, but to a newbie who was struggling with all the underwater quests in Stranglethorn Vale back when your characters could barely hold their breath for a minute or so, that thing was the shit. I also remember wearing the Acidic Walkers for a very long time, despite of their garish looks.
Finally, Gnomeregan is simply a great place to be if you want to feel like a real adventurer. There are ambushes coming out of tunnels, a little Alliance base fighting to stem the tide of irradiated troggs, mysterious drops, winding tunnels and deep pits... it's pretty damn immersive really if you don't let the feeling that you don't know where you're going frustrate you too much.
Speaking of which, during my visit with my level eighty priest I pulled up the map of the instance on Wowhead and quickly found that it wasn't actually that terribly confusing if you had a map. In fact, I'm pretty sure that most of the unpopular old instances would seem much less daunting if they simply provided some in-game navigational aid. I think not having any instance maps in the original game was simply a huge oversight on Blizzard's part; to this day I sometimes get frustrated when I habitually hit the M key while in an dungeon and a screen pops up to show me that I'm somewhere on Kalimdor. Yeah, that's helpful...
Oh, and one more bit of love for Gnomeregan: it's very silly and whimsical, but back at level sixty my druid friend and me would go back into the instance, she would stealth up the tunnel leading up to the last boss, unstealth in the middle of a big group of mobs and then run for her life, creating a massive robot/dark iron train that followed her around. Then she'd lag out from the sheer size of it, they'd come over and beat me up, and we'd laugh. The ways in which you can make your own fun when you're bored...
Anyway, after having rediscovered my love for Gnomer on my main, I wanted to know whether it would hold up to the test when being run in the here and now, at level, so I logged onto my troll warrior and specifically queued up for it as a tank. I got a group instantly and off we went.
Initially it seemed to be one of those slightly eerie pugs where nobody talks, but people were obediently following my lead. As we were in the middle of the event leading up to Grubbis, a dps and the healer dropped group all of a sudden, I can only guess because they got bored of waiting for the waves of troggs to spawn? I don't know. We got replacements immediately and continued on our merry way.
I was almost starting to feel slightly disappointed by just how smoothly things were going and how easily we were killing things, when we somehow ended up aggroing multiple alarm bots or something and suddenly got buried under an absolutely massive amount of elite mobs; we're talking several dozen or so. Others might have found the resulting wipe frustrating, but I just thought that it was hilarious as it once again took me back to the "good old times" when we wiped like that all the time... Everyone patiently ran back and found their way back to the instance without any problems. I guess I got lucky in so far as everyone seemed to be reasonably experienced; about the most noobish thing that anyone did was one of our two hunters meleeing a lot (but not even most of the time).
Then as we made our way back and jumped straight down into the pit with all the oozes for the second time, the slightly noobish hunter didn't dismiss his pet and about a minute later it brought a veritable Horde of troggs down on us. Fortunately we just about managed to kill them, so I could laugh it off as yet another nostalgia-inducing noob moment.
The rest of the run went smoothly again, and I felt a bit more comfortable after the previous two incidents had tickled at least a couple of good-natured words out of the other party members. We didn't take the "detour" to kill the Crowd Pummeler since people seemed to be fairly eager to get to the end and we had already clocked some "extra time" to clear out the Alliance base and the dormitories to do the goblin escort quest. All in all it was a very enjoyable run, and I only found myself wondering how I ever came to dislike this instance. It's really not all that bad!