2004 was a pretty awesome year, all things considered. We were treated to both EverQuest 2 and World of Warcraft: two games now nearing their tenth anniversaries, and two games which grew and shaped their own path towards a successful life in the baby years of the MMO industry. Now, as MMO games are in their awkward teenage years, it’s easy to be disgruntled about the way things are now. That’s what we do when we let nostalgia color our memories all rosy and fine. For me, my 2004 game was World of Warcraft. I eagerly awaited both EQ2 and WoW, but after getting into the Closed Beta for the latter, my fate was sealed. Everything about those early Azerothian days seems great in hindsight… until I remember why I quit the first time (lack of level 60 content). But today, I thought I’d pull out one of my fondest Azerothian memories from the fall and winter of 2004, when we were all noobs slinging Chuck Norris jokes in General Chat.
It was December 2004, WoW was brand spanking new, the servers still struggling to hold themselves up to the onslaught of new players flooding into their first MMORPG. During the CBT, I’d spent most of my time playing a Dwarf Hunter… that’s right, in WoW’s early days I was all Alliance, all the time. It wasn’t until 2006 or so that I started playing Horde. Anyway, for launch I went with the class that really intrigued me most at the time: the Paladin. I loved Uther from the Warcraft RTS, and the idea of a dwarf wielding a giant mace and smiting undead just pulled to me.
I’d managed to bring Tundrin of Dragonblight (alas, I’m not even certain he exists any longer), all the way to level 37. Back then, before WoW’s own quest design had trained me to just focus on the yellow and orange quests in my log for maximum XP output, I was actually playing the game to experience the stories it told and the adventures yielded. I was still putzing around Southshore, only having recently made my way there. Mind you, this was in the days before cheap level 20 mounts, and I hadn’t yet hit level 40 to get the most awesome class-perk ever: a free armored charger.
Hillsbrad Foothills was a pretty empty zone back then, without too much questing. Blizzard’s bringing the “memory” of SS vs Tarren Mill to the forefront of the anniversary via a Battleground, but that just can’t and won’t do the original accidental war of Hillsbrad any justice. You see, SS was Alliance territory, but it wasn’t too far from the Horde hub of the Tarren Mill and even the Sepulcher and Undercity itself to the north. Before everything about WoW’s PVP became entrenched in Battlegrounds and Honor Points, there were consensual openworld fights between the two factions. There were no rewards but the thrill of the hunt and the fight that followed. It’s funny how the original Honor system and the grind to reach ranks within it tore the fight out of the open world. Ever since Blizzard has tried to reinvigorate that open PVP, but they just haven’t been able to recapture those early days.
Don’t get me wrong, we complained back then too about not being rewarded, even just with XP for our kills, but we still had fun. When Halloween’s event came about and we all tried to light the Wicker Man in enemy territory and even more havoc was created. But this particular little jaunt down memory lane is about one of the most memorable fights I had in WoW. It wasn’t in Molten Core, or Ahn’Qiraj… it was in Hillsbrad Foothills when about a hundred players clashed over territory that we couldn’t claim, couldn’t capture, but we fought anyway because it was fun.
We, that is to say, myself and a bunch of other Alliance folks I didn’t even know, were going about our business when a few level 60 Horde showed up in Southshore, killing NPCs, agro-ing guards, and hoping and praying for us meek level 30-somethings to fight back. Word spread throughout the chat that a Tauren Hunter, an Orc Shaman, and his Undead Mage friend were picking on some lowbies, and before I knew it our cavalry of two came in: a level 57 Rogue and a level 60 Hunter. We did what we could (which is to say ‘not much’) to help our higher level friends push back the Horde. As we went, dying, respawning, and running to the fray, more people began to filter in and join us.
Image courtesy of Potshot
You have to know something about Paladins in 2004. We didn’t hit that hard, even with Retribution, but we sure could take a beating. As we pushed the enemy further and further back towards the Mill (let’s be honest, Alliance always outnumber Horde on PvE servers), the Tauren Hunter and I kept going at each other. As long as I could stay within reach of her, she wasn’t doing too much damage to me, and I was doing just enough to her to be an annoying little gnat. Her pet spent most of the time dead, and I followed her down into the Tarren Mill Inn while my friends and comrades waged war above.
I had my Lay on Hands ready, and my Bubble ready. She couldn’t touch me, and if she did, I was ready to heal myself with LoH.
I was lucky enough that the other higher level Horde were busy, and that my two upper level buddies had begun to whittle her health down. I missed and missed, but she apparently hadn’t trained her melee weapons in ages, because she was whiffing too. Finally, she dropped. Not because I killed her, but because my Rogue friend had jumped behind her and garroted her to death.
The Horde were cleared out of Tarren Mill, but we weren’t done. Our high level friends forewent their mounts to run with us north to the Sepulcher, where we tried to valiantly push back the Horde even further. We held the high-teens Horde encampment for about three hours, constantly fighting a tug of war with the Undead and their friends in the area. We eventually had to fall back to Tarren Mill, and eventually the zest and vigor for bloodshed waned and we all went back to questing or crafting.
For a brief time, at least, the war subsided. But in those heady days of 2004, any quiet calm in Southshore was momentary at best. As I went about slaying Naga and Murlocs, I knew that the real enemy was to my north at a corrupt and rundown mill where they would amass numbers and strike again… because it was fun.