Once there was a zone called Stranglethorn Vale. It was a place of jungle and raptors and trolls and missing pages from books and that bastard Hemet Nesingwary who would continue to haunt our existence through every expansion with his wildlife slaughtering requests.
It was a large and somewhat controversial zone… though some appreciated the quest design… that would try your patience for endless running (you didn’t have a mount when you got there back in the day) and managing your bag space.
It was where the Horde and Alliance really started to merge. Before Stranglethorn Vale, each side had most zones to themselves. Afterwards, everybody ran down the same list of zones.
And it was placed right in the middle of the leveling curve, in that danger zone when the fun of the first twenty or so levels had receded from your rear view mirror, but the level cap of 60 (way back when) was still somewhere over the horizon.
At one point I had five or six characters stuck somewhere in their mid-30s, bags full of pages from The Green Hills of Stranglethorn and logs full of quests with horrible drop rates, congested “kill a single named mob” choke points, or more variations on slaughter for hire, unable to progress due to a desire never to see that jungle again.
From the rebel camp to Booty Bay, from the Vile Reef to the Venture Company sites, from Kurzen’s Camp to the Nesingwary Expedition, from the Gubashi Arena to the pirates off the the southeast coast, Stranglethorn Vale has a lot going on. And while you can blue sky daydream about the good old days in the Vale, you have to remember that Blizzard felt it had to boost the questing experience in Dustwallow Marsh, adding in Mudsproket and a whole range of additional quests around Theramore and Brackenwall. At the time this was pretty much a mea culpa from Blizzard that old STV might be a bit more of a pain than the expected.
And then came the Cataclysm. The zone was split into two, with the top half becoming Northern Stranglethorn Vale and the bottom becoming the Cape of Stranglethorn, which strikes me a bit like having North Carolina and the Carolina Strand as states… you tend to call out “north” only if there is a “south” right… but then the whole continent is called The Eastern Kingdoms, which is a vague, hand waving description more than a name in my opinion, so my problems with the geographic naming conventions of Azeroth are long standing.
I had already wrapped up the Northern Stranglethorn achievement with my warrior, Makarov, way back in March of last year when I was back in the game on a seven day pass and still not over my post-Cataclysm malaise.
But for whatever reason, Makarov moved on to the Plaguelands (of which there is an East and a West, so there), leaving the Cape of Stranglethorn untouched. And so it remained, until I decided to go for the Loremaster achievement this summer.
More after the cut.
So the first thing I needed was a character to go there that would keep with my current philosophy of picking up the missing achievements with characters at an appropriate level. While I have already push a rogue, monk, and warrior past , I have a number of those sitting around. I considered a level 33 worgen mage, a leftover from when we re-rolled the instance group after Cataclysm landed. However, I decided to go with a level 36 dwarf shaman named Honecker.
I rolled him up at one point after dwarves got the shaman class with the idea of him being a healer for instance runs. I left him spec’d for healing because… well… why not? Before level 40 most mobs aren’t too tough. I had actually used him to grab the Loch Modan and Wetlands quest achievement, along with the quick Arathi Highlands quest achievement, back before I had really decided to embark on this venture. I was playing him during the Civ V game where things were moving so slowly I decided to play something else in parallel. (And that Civ V game isn’t done yet, we just haven’t been able to get even two of us together on a Friday night for the last few weeks.)
The first thing I had to do was get him down to the zone. Since I had no flight point south of the new one in Goldshire (because walking to Stormwind is hard, yo) it was going to be a bit of a ride.
I decided to just head straight for Booty Bay. It is way down at the south end of the zone, but it is/was/could be an important flight point to have because of the boat that connects it with Ratchet on Kalimdor.
I knew there was at least one more flight point I would need in the zone, which no doubt indicated the location of a quest hub as well. I figured that if I needed to, I would just ride up that way and pick up that quest chain if I needed to.
Arriving in the now battered Booty Bay, Cataclysm having been tough on the ramshackle goblin architecture, I started in on a series of quests that seemed awfully familiar. I was out to find somebody’s missing eye and a dozen packets of snuff and whatever plans the Bloodsail Buccaneers might have on their camp on the beach. I was specifically reminded of the old days with that last one, as it also requires you to kill six of their mages and six of their… um… sea dogs.
This was one of those quests, which hasn’t changed in nearly a decade, where there were barely enough mobs spawned for two people to do the quest in parallel, and the two different mobs share a spawn table, which means you could need sea dogs but be staring out at a field of mages. So you have to go kill the mages until sea dogs start to appear, which is exactly what I had to do.
The quest chain continued down the road of the familiar, even when I hit that other camp. There I was sent after zombie juice and naga idols and bundles of akis and a few more trips down memory lane. This recycled quest routine kept up until I was about 30 quests into the 60 required for the achievement, when the various paths merged and I was left with a single quest to follow up.
I figured I was in trouble here, or had missed some major quest hub, because if the zone seems to be running out of steam half way into the the quest count, something is awry. And I was also a bit disappointed too, as here was a zone that had quite a bit of physical change, from the big crater up north to the wrecked Booty Bay in the south to what seemed to be oil platforms off the east coast.
However, up to that point, everything was filler with a little bit of groundwork for the bigger story. From that point forward the zone becomes very much a Cataclysm story zone, with you infiltrating the Bloodsail, spying out their forces, learning their plans, shooting some goblins off of those oil rigs, all leading up to an invasion of Booty Bay.
If you are not big on the “zone as story” thing that Cataclysm introduced, this whole thing might be annoying. Like the big changes in Redridge, you get a lot of instancing and stuff that only makes sense if you are solo and so on.
If you’re like me and have taken that deep breath and are willing to indulge Blizzard in their choices these days… well, it can be a lot of fun.
You are sent off to bomb the pirates, fight them on their decks, and scout out their leader.
Naturally, in the end, the pirates are defeated and you are suitably rewarded by Baron Revilgaz. And, as it turned out, finishing up the pirate invasion also got me to the last quest I needed for the achievement. Such timing.
Which knocks another zone off my list.
Now I have three more 40-55 zones in the Eastern Kingdoms, starting with the Eastern Plaguelands to take on, as well as Bloodmyst Isle off of Kalimdor in order to finished off the two 1-60 zone meta achievements for Loremaster.