I rolled a goblin priest to see the goblin starter area some time ago. Those zones seems to be the kind of content that people either love or hate, and unfortunately my reaction fell on the negative side of the spectrum. Kezan and the Lost Isles just felt nothing like the Azeroth I used to know, and while I can generally appreciate pop culture references and the like, the goblins went overboard with it in my opinion.
So once I had seen what it was all about, I parked my little priest in Orgrimmar and didn't touch her for the next couple of months. I've found that not playing a character for a while gives them time to settle, and possible negative associations from the past are given time to dissipate. So I finally felt ready to play my goblin again the other week and took her to Azshara.
Azshara is a sort of continuation of the goblin starter experience, but officially open to all races and not quite as silly. Yes, the hyper-intelligent raptor that escaped into space with a rocket was a bit mind-boggling, and then there was that whole affair with Azuregos and the spirit healer. What the...? However, a lot of the zone was about fighting night elves and naga and typical wildlife, and I was happy.
I saw a comment on someone else's blog, I don't remember by whom, who said that Blizzard had "destroyed" Azshara with Cataclysm. It's certainly not the quiet and empty land it used to be, but... don't get me wrong, I certainly appreciated the old Azshara, but let's not kid ourselves: emptiness is cheap. Azshara was what it was due to Blizzard failing to do anything useful with it, not due to any intentional design making it awesome. They did the same thing again in Cataclysm in some areas, so if you miss that feeling of being lost in a landscape that is nothing else but land, you can always go for a stroll through Alterac. (Or actually, Gilneas works quite well too, due to so many things being phased.)
Meanwhile, Azshara offers lots of questing fun now and I think it's a solid experience, though I had one problem here that I haven't managed to have in any other post-Cata zone: I managed to lose the plot. Suddenly I had no more quests in my log, even though I still had a good quarter of the zone left according to the quest achievement, and I was sitting out in the middle of nowhere, lost. I then spent about half an hour driving around the zone on my annoying-sounding trike, until I finally found a quest on a lonely mountain peak which then reconnected me with the rest of the story.
I wasn't sure how I felt about that. On the one hand it's nice to engage your own brain in search of quest givers every once in a while instead of blindly following a breadcrumb trail all the time. But if the entire zone is designed around the idea that you will be following the breadcrumb trail along fifty different mini-hubs, losing the plot is annoying because it could literally be anywhere. How I longed for just being able to check three different quest hubs for updates instead of having to peek into every nook and cranny of the zone in search of that lone missing exclamation mark.
I also felt bad about ending the zone by killing the former Alliance flight master.
I continued onwards to Ashenvale. For comparison, I wrote about how I experienced the zone on Alliance side in this post a few months ago. Horde side was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster to me. Oh cool, I get to ride around on a kodo. Argh, why are we killing all these night elves and I'm not allowed to join in? Why am I doomed to watching passively as the cut scene plays out? Combat cut scenes seriously need to go, considering that's the basic unit of WoW gameplay.
There were a couple of NPCs that I liked, like that orc couple where the guy made me pick flowers for his lady and she made me collect fel fire. It made me like the Horde. I was quite happy to slaughter generic night elves by the dozen, and I was absolutely delighted to see that the three named beasts from The Ashenvale Hunt were still around and dropping quest items.
Around the third time or so when I walked through Silverwind Refuge, I noticed that there were actually night elf corpses on the ground still... and named ones. Agrnagvekf. I didn't really remember them very well, but I found myself wondering which one of them had sold me the expert cookbook back in the day. Suddenly I hated being Horde.
Emotional turmoil aside, seeing the Alliance vs. Horde conflict in Ashenvale play out from both sides was also a bit strange. I've talked about how quests running in parallel on both sides can make for a more interesting story, and to some extent this is happening in Ashenvale, but it's all very inconclusive. The Horde has you bombing Astranaar and then happily sends you on your way with a pat on the back. But didn't I put all those fires out as Alliance? Didn't I save Astranaar? So Alliance wins, technically? Likewise a Horde quest sends me to corrupt the Forest Heart, and I do, but I know from Alliance side that they cleanse it afterwards. At Splintertree Post I fought off not one, but two major night elf attacks, but the attackers never really went away entirely. And at Raynewood Retreat the Horde kills the local Alliance leader, but the Alliance lays massive waste to the Horde army on their side of the quest. They then say that I saved the place, but did I really?
Silverwind Refuge is the only area where it's completely clear who won, but that happened before I even got there. Anything I contributed to the war effort made no particular difference from what I could tell. That's actually not a bad thing in principle, but what bothered me a little was that I couldn't tell whether that was by design, or whether the developers simply didn't want to tell Horde players that they lost those fights... because knowing what I knew from Alliance side, it kind of felt like they should have.
Next zones coming up in review from Horde side whenever I get around to it: Desolace, Southern Barrens, Thousand Needles.