I'm a levelling machine! Once I had decided to park my dwarf paladin at sixty for the time being, I immediately picked up another old alt, in this case my level fifteen human rogue, and took her to Darkshore to get onto the questing path in Kalimdor.
Darkshore is still a wonderful zone, though I admit that I might be biased as this is where my little night elf priest first learned the ropes back in vanilla. As such it's never been a zone that I would have named as one of my favourites (I generally prefer things a little less melancholy and a bit more green), but every time I go back there, a part of me immediately feels at home. It's funny how much that early conditioning can stick.
The zone is one of the ones that have been changed more drastically by the Cataclysm, and the quests have been overhauled completely to reflect this, but somehow it still manages to retain the same old feel and atmosphere (which I consider a good thing). It's also a zone that struck me as particularly attractive to old-timers who are rolling a new alt, because there are a lot of references to the way things used to be that won't mean much to a new player but will definitely catch a veteran's attention.
The quest line dealing with the destruction of Auberdine is the most striking example of this. I won't claim that I immediately recognised any names I read during The Last Wave of Survivors, but many of them seemed familiar in a vague way, so I went to look them up and then usually went "nooo, not him/her" and felt distressed, as if Deathwing had killed someone that I personally knew. It's interesting how little things like that can get to you.
There are also the Shatterspear trolls, and I for one felt a pang of sadness remembering how they used to be neutral and people would hurl themselves off mountains to go dance with them, yet now they are getting slaughtered in the name of the Alliance. War, what is it good for?
Oh, and the Master's Glaive! For years we wondered what lay buried there, and now we finally get some backstory for it, which again, wouldn't be anything special to a new player, but for someone who has wondered about that strange site many times in the past, it's very satisfying.
Gameplay-wise it's worth mentioning that Blizzard attempted to alleviate all the running up and down caused by the elongated shape of the zone both by more sensible quest design as well as by implementing night saber riders that will give you a ride between different sites, which is a reasonable enough solution to move players quickly between places where it wouldn't make sense to have full-blown flight paths but that are still far enough apart that all the running will start to bore players without a mount. There's also a quest that allows you to acquire a permanent run speed buff that works in the entire zone.
Moving on to Ashenvale felt mildly disappointing in comparison, as it hasn't been changed nearly as much. The conflict with the Horde has been escalated, but overall a lot of the old quests were kept and simply adjusted somewhat. This is not entirely a bad thing, as Ashenvale had some pretty memorable quest lines to begin with, but still the final result wasn't as exciting as I had hoped. For example I had heard a rumour some time ago that the new Dartol's Rod quest line would allow you to keep the rod at the end, but that didn't turn out to be true, and the new version of the rod can only be used in Ashenvale anyway. Slightly disappointing.
The zone's lore also felt inconsistent to me. I've talked about the "Haven't I killed this guy before?" syndrome before, but it's really not just about named NPCs. Why can the Alliance procure an entire keep out of thin air in Swamp of Sorrows, but Forest Song still looks as if they started building it yesterday, after nearly five years? The passage of time sure has left a lot of anomalies after the Cataclysm. Oh, and speaking of anomalies, there was also a quest that has you defending Astranaar against a Horde attack, and while phasing was used to show fires and enemy windriders, all the NPCs still calmly went about their business in the middle of it all, completely undisturbed, which was just weird.
The transition from Ashenvale to Stonetalon was pleasantly smooth, with a couple of quests "spilling across the border" so to speak, which I liked as it felt more natural and less as if you were simply playing a game and just ticking off another zone as "done". There was also an explanation for why some quest givers are able to talk to you remotely as one of the gnome NPCs at Stardust Spire builds a "gnomecorder" for you - it's just a shame that this same technology is also automatically assumed to already be existent in several other (including lower-level) zones without any kind of explanation. Plus, you kind of wonder why the NPCs don't use such a powerful technology for more important things than talking to the random schmuck that they sent out to kill ten orcs.
I was curious what Stonetalon would be like for Alliance after my rather intense playthrough of the Horde side. It was... not as exciting to be honest. I was kind of disappointed to see that more than a few quests were complete carbon copies of what I had experienced on Horde side, and not just mechanics-wise. The Alliance even has its own deranged little girl with a pet robot! The big plot happening on Horde side only comes into play in a marginal role really - the Alliance discovers the bomb and you manage to delay its deployment a bit, but in the end you don't make that much of a difference. I don't know why the big climax of that story didn't touch me as much as Alliance. Part of it was probably that it wasn't played up as much, not to mention that I already knew how it was going to end, but more importantly I guess it was just another instance of "watching the Horde being jerks" as opposed to the massive guilt trip the Horde story puts you through.
The rest of the zone was kind of mix and match. Fight the Horde and gather some stuff. Alright I guess. Lore-wise it was interesting to see the Alliance try to ally with the Grimtotem. I also hit exalted with Darnassus about halfway through, which seemed way too easy, but whatever. Oh, and was I the only one who kept looking for some kind of follow-up to Brood of Seldarria that involved doing something to Seldarria herself? It just seemed very atypical for a WoW quest giver to go "oh noes, a black dragon... let's, um, smash up some of its eggs and then leave it alone".