Firstly, to put things into perspective, I was quite fond of the old Stranglethorn Vale (or "Strange-thorn vale" as I thought it was called initially) , though I wouldn't have listed it as one of my favourite zones. It's quite funny, considering that a friend who had been playing longer than me immediately told me upon entering the zone for the first time that it was an awful place and that on the PvP server he used to play on it was called "Ganklethorn Vale". Unsurprisingly, the purely PvE experience was very different. I remember having my first encounters with the opposite faction and actually helping them, because you know, trolls and tigers and stuff everywhere, man! I know how it is!
I generally remember Stranglethorn as a very social place. Seeing how it covered a huge level range back in the day (30-50, roughly), there were always a lot of people there, looking for help with one of the many group quests, or sitting in Booty Bay and asking whether anyone wanted to trade Green Hills of Stranglethorn pages (back when there were about a dozen of them instead of just one and the quest was a bit like a mini collectible card game).
However, I also understand why people hated Stranglethorn. For some of them, spending so much time in the same zone quickly made them grow tired of jungles and trolls. Quests constantly making you run up and down the entire zone over and over again (on foot, back when you didn't get a mount until forty) got tedious, and repeatedly being forced to run past mobs ten levels higher than you was generally a disaster waiting to happen. I do think that those things also added something to the game at the time, but I certainly understand why they annoyed people.
So how does the new Stranglethorn compare? I knew that it wasn't going to be a social experience for me and that I wouldn't spend nearly as much time in the same places as before, especially since the zone has now been split in two, but what else is there to know?
Northern Stranglethorn hasn't changed that much, on the whole. Most of the old quests are still there, even if they have all been streamlined in some form. Sometimes the quest text and story have changed, but you're essentially still doing the same things as before, like with the Kurzen quests: Kurzen himself is dead but you just kill his lackeys instead, basically. On the whole I was quite happy with this. Somehow, I always felt that Stranglethorn was one of those places where the "kill ten mobs" model just worked, and it still does.
The Nesingwary quests have some remote turn-ins now to save you from having to run back and forth between the different killing grounds and the quest NPCs. To be honest I didn't really think it was needed, considering that you don't have to stray that far from the hunter camp anymore anyway, but whatever. The lore justification for the remote hand-in was interesting however - instead of the quest givers constantly giving you new tasks to kill different kinds of tigers/panthers/raptors, they just tell you to prove yourself as a hunter and your character then "feels" that after killing ten young ones they should move on to the adults and so on. I just didn't think it made sense that my warrior magically "felt" that she should now go kill a named tiger that she realistically never even would have heard about.
The most interesting addition to Northern Stranglethorn is a new quest chain surrounding a little raptor hatchling that you find while in Kurzen's camp. It integrates quite seamlessly with the rest of the quests as the hatchling just kind of pops up and gives you a prompt related to what you're already doing. I was quite intrigued by where this story was going, and loved it when - SPOILERS INCOMING - I accidentally ended up resurrecting Bloodlord Mandokir. Damn low-levels and their resurrecting raid bosses. You'd think that I would have learned from the many times I accidentally helped with bringing back Hakkar back in old Tanaris.
What makes it even better though is that they make it personal by having Mandokir take your little raptor hatchling away. Nooo, not my pet! You then engage on an exciting and fascinating mission to get her back, only to fail right at the finish line, and you're left with nothing but a vague promise that you might be able to get her back if you manage to become strong enough to challenge Mandokir in Zul'Gurub directly. Indeed, if you go back there at 85 after having done this quest line, you get to rescue your baby, fifty-five levels later. Amazing.
Now, I can't really see my little warrior getting to that point any time soon, but this quest alone certainly made me want to level her a lot more. And I think that's great. If you read the user comments on the Wowhead page I linked above, you'll see that I wasn't the only one who had a very strong emotional reaction to this quest. And why not, it's got all the hallmarks of an epic quest line in WoW: it spans several levels, you have to overcome some serious obstacles on the way, you fail and suffer a setback, but when you eventually get to pick up your little Lashtail Hatchling it just feels all the sweeter.
I just couldn't help being somewhat surprised that Blizzard went through all this effort "just" for a mini pet. No offense to pet collectors, but non-combat pets don't exactly strike me as the type of content that yearns to have an epic quest chain attached to it. That's the kind of thing I used to expect from raiding and attunements. I guess this just proves that there is a real benefit to being a hipster in WoW and engaging in relatively niche activities like pet collecting. Whatever the developers want to make "mainstream" will inevitably end up getting declawed and nerfed because they are worried about anyone being put off by obstacles. However, as long as they don't create content with the expectation that everyone will do it, they can make it cool.
Maybe the loss of my pet raptor left me feeling a bit dispirited at the time, but
Take Stranglethorn Fever, for example. Back in the day you needed to collect ten (low drop-rate) Gorilla Fangs to summon Mokk, and then he would come in with about a dozen apes accompanying him and wipe you out. Then you'd have to gather another ten fangs and try again, probably while asking for help in chat at the same time. Frustrating? Probably, but it was definitely memorable. Now it's just another quick kill quest.
Same with the quests to kill various giants given by Captain Smotts. I remember when you needed to have Barbecued Buzzard Wings to summon Negolash... you bet I was popular for having actually bothered to level cooking and having got the recipe in the Badlands! Funnily enough the pile of food that you now use to lure the giant still looks like Buzzard Wings when placed on the ground (I think they were even labelled as such if you hovered over them), even though it's supposedly something else.
None of these quests were bad. It's just that if, like me, you remembered having more fun with them back when they were more difficult, they seem a bit bland now.
So, I continued through the Cape of Stranglethorn, not finding anything particularly noteworthy, until there was a sudden and very noticeable shift in my questing as I was given a quest to infiltrate the Bloodsail Buccaneers for Baron Revilgaz. Suddenly everything was shiny and new and quests were varied and fun, making use of all the new tools that Blizzard has developed for a more interesting quest experience over the years. Most of it made me laugh, but at least one quest also made me feel quite distressed. It was good!
Finally it all ended with a big showdown between the Bloodsails and the Blackwater Raiders. I really enjoyed this as well, and this is one case where I felt that the devs really made an existing story a lot better by simply overhauling it big time. I didn't mind the old pirate-killing quests, but they always left me with the feeling that the Bloodsails weren't much more than a nuisance. In the new quest chain you actually get a real sense of them being a threat, and phasing is used to show Booty Bay under serious attack, which is when I took the screenshot at the top of this article.
Now, I've rambled a lot in this post. What's my final verdict? I think, all in all, both halves of Stranglethorn remain what they were to me before: not my absolute favourite zone, but solid entertainment. In revamping this area, Blizzard has managed to strike a good balance between preserving the old and introducing something new.
I'm still not entirely done with looking at the revamped old world, as I still have some starter zones left plus the view of some zones from Horde side, but I have at least a vague idea about most places now. One of these days I might have to write a more comprehensive summary of my impressions of the shattered world.