When we’d last left our heroic hero of heroes, he’d just finished traipsing through two of the new Northrend instances, Azjol-Nerub and The Nexus, merrily slaughtering everything in sight that could potentially drop phat lewt. Good times were had by all. Well, except the creatures that got slaughtered but nobody cares about them anyway, right?
While I’m not saying that there’s necessarily anything wrong with wanton and whimsical wholesale slaughter, whether in the name of shiny new gear or just for fun … but sometimes it’s nice to have a bit of context, you know? So, I decided to give my dungeon-running muscles a rest and go get my quest on in the Howling Fjord.
I pick up where I left off before absconding on my dungeon-crawling adventure, the Forsaken outpost of Vengeance Landing. As one might expect from the name, Vengeance Landing is the foothold of Sylvannas Windrunner’s armies in Northrend, and as High Executor Anselm makes very clear when talking to him, they are there for one reason and one reason alone: to destroy Arthas and get their revenge.
Apparently they’re not too busy to give me quests, though. Hooray!
Despite the presence of a handful of mutual enemies like the Vrykul and the Scourge, old hatreds die hard, and there’s a perpetual skirmish line not far off from Vengeance Landing where Sylvannas’ Hand of Vengeance forces clash against soldiers from the alliance North Fleet. Given that it was the naval forces under Daelin Proudmoore who caused faction trouble back in Durotar, I can’t help but wonder if maybe the Alliance naval academy needs to recruit soldiers who could hypothetically deal with having their copper vein ninja’d by Horde without declaring open warfare.
Of course, it’s also possible that the Forsaken aren’t entirely blameless here. The half-wrecked Undercity fleet off the Howling Fjord coast wasn’t exactly transporting puppies and cake, if you get my drift. No, rather, their holds were filled with containers of the Royal Apothecary Society’s new and improved evil-death-killing-plague. Sure, maybe its main target would be the Scourge, but really. These are the Forsaken. Minimizing collateral damage and secondary casualties ain’t exactly high on their priority list.
After a little bit more legwork for the Apothecaries, I can’t help but feel sort of … dirty. Or perhaps “diseased” is more accurate. So, time to do some exploring, get some new flight paths, and try to find some questgivers who aren’t bloodthirsty, murderous jerks.
But I won’t hold my breath for that last one.
Oh, speaking of which! Looks like they’ve doubled – if not tripled – the duration of the Breath bar. A minor change, but a welcome one nonetheless. Maybe underwater quests will suck less now!
Far to the Northeast of Howling Fjord is Camp Winterhoof, and as you can probably tell from the name, it’s a village of everybody’s favorite cow-men. Well, to be precise, Winterhoof isn’t a Tauren settlement, but a Taunka one. The models have since been updated (well, at least the male ones), but at the time I visited they were still using regular Tauren models as placeholders. I was slightly confused.
Despite having lived there for generations, the Taunka at Camp Winterhoof are preparing to abandon their home and leave to go, uh, somewhere. Maybe I missed a bit of quest text, but I’m still not entirely sure why they’re leaving or where exactly they’re planning to go. As far as Northrend goes, Howling Fjord seems like it’s one of the more pleasant regions to live in … at least, compared to some. I suppose it’s possible that they’ll be moving down to the rest of Azeroth, now that they’re allied with the Horde? Maybe they can set up shop in Blackwing Lair – not like anybody else is using it these days, eh?
I pick up the quests here – collect some ram horns here, deal with renegade ice elementals there, you know the drill. Since I’m in an exploratory mood and I’ve already gotten the flight path for Winterhoof, I winter-hoof it (insert groaning here) to the Southwest and the Undead town of New Agamand.
As I can tell from the green haze of disease and the piles of potentially-radioactive muck all around the settlement, New Agamand is clearly competing with Disneyworld for the Happiest Place on Earth. Er, Azeroth. Since I’ve had my fill of these unholier-than-thou Forsaken and can’t help but feel a bit skeevy after hanging around them, I move on. More exploring!
Trekking to the West, I reach the Ancient Lift. Unlike the other, non-ancient lifts all around Howling Fjord that make it possible to reach the top of the cliffs without the aid of a climbing pick, a rope and harness, and Tenzing Norgay, the Ancient Lift is more like… well, it’s essentially a very long ski lift with wooden cars shaped like Viking – er, Vrykul – longboats. While the very concept seems to sneer in the face of the laws of physics (at least the other lifts in the Fjord have visible counterweights), I didn’t complain in Thunder Bluff and I ain’t complaining now.
The Ancient Lift ferries players to the outlying islands off the shore of the Fjord, and there I find the Tuskarr village of Kamagua. Like the Sporelings before them, the Tuskarr are this expansion’s requisite “bizarre indigenous race who need the assistance of players or else they will face certain doom.” Unlike the Sporelings, the Tuskarr are actually sort of useful, with three villages along Northrend’s south coastline – not just in Howling Fjord, but also in Dragonblight and Borean Tundra – that not only have a good number of quests for decent loot and XP … but a transport system. The great sea turtles can take players easily and quickly between the three zones, which is actually pretty damn convenient.
The Tuskarr are also markedly less bizarre than the mushroom … type-things … well, whatever the Sporelings were. They’re short, stout walrus-folk, and there’s something oddly endearing about them … must be the tusks. Hey, it works for Trolls, right?
At the time, though, I didn’t yet know about the Tuskarr Turtle Transportation Technique, which might have saved me a bit of a headache – curious about the Alliance experience in Howling Fjord, I hopped onto my Druid, last parked at the inn in Valiance Keep in Borean Tundra.
It would have been fairly easy to go to the nearby Tuskarr settlement and take Mr. Turtle across the sea … which sounds strangely like the premise for a heartwarming children’s story, but I digress. It would have also been easy to just wait in Valiance Keep for the boat to come, sail back to Stormwind, and fly to Menethil. Those would have been easy, simple, and sensible methods. But as we all know, that’s not my style.
Or, rather, they didn’t occur to me at the time. Whoops.
Instead, I had the brilliant idea of using my Druid Skillz to teleport back to Moonglade, take the taxi to Teldrassil, fly back to Auberdine, and then catch that boat to Stormwind. A more roundabout route, but hey, it worked. Upon arriving at Stormwind Harbor, I ride up to the city … and then stop at the sight of a group of NPCs standing there, overlooking the bay.
There are four of them – good ol’ Bolvar Fordragon, a Night Elf Druid named Broll Bearmantle (aptly wearing Stormrage Pauldrons), and a Blood Elf by the name of Valeera Sanguinar. If these names sound familiar because you’re up-to-date on the side stories of WarCraft, then you can probably guess the fourth. Yes, it’s Varian Wrynn, <King of Stormwind>.
Well. Uh. That was unexpected. You’d think that the return of the King from his abduction would generate more of a fanfare, wouldn’t you? But no, he’s just chilling there with his pals and Bolvar, watching the sun set and presumably having a good Dwarven beer or five.
I’m curious as to how they’ll change the Missing Diplomat quest chain – if they will at all, I mean. After all, Elling Trias’ pressing need for secrecy seems much less urgent when the King isn’t even five minutes’ walk away.
Out of curiosity to see if anything else has changed (what with Bolvar hanging out in the Harbor and all), I pay a visit to Stormwind Keep. Alas, it’s the same as ever: Bolvar must’ve been very, very sneaky to beat me back there like he did, there’s still Wrynn the Younger and Lady Prestor-Who-Is-Not-An-Evil-Black-Dragon-No-Really-We’re-Serious.
Hm. Most perplexing.
Incidentally, there are lion statues lining the Canal entrances that I could have sworn weren’t there in Live but am far too lazy to actually go check for myself.
Putting the mystery of the suddenly-returned King (as well as Bolvar’s apparent ninja training) in the back of my mind, I fly to Menethil to finally head up to Valgarde in the Howling Fjord. Speaking of Menethil, I can’t help but feel that with the addition of crew members on the old-world shipping routes, it’s a perfect opportunity to bring back everyone’s beloved Captain Placeholder. Alas, no such luck. Curse you, Blizzard. Curse you.
The boat arrives and disembarks to the Howling Fjord, and I go with it.
Unlike Valiance Keep, the town of Valgarde isn’t directly on the coast; Daggercap Bay is a fair ways inland, connected to the ocean by a river running through the Fjord itself. As the boat winds its way through the cliffs and the mist on the water… it’s actually a surprisingly breathtaking introduction, very cinematic and striking. Easily the coolest way to get to Northrend by far.
Unfortunately, it’s also kind of long. Like, after zoning in, there’s still more than 3 minutes of boat travel ahead of you before it stops at Valgarde. Sure, the passage underneath the flaming wreckage of another, less-fortunate ship and through the caves is really, really cool the first time, but it feels a bit unnecessary. It’d probably be faster to jump off and just swim the rest of the way to shore immediately upon entering Daggercap Bay itself.
Valgarde is a town preparing for war, and war has certainly found it – while the skirmish at Vengeance Landing is fairly close by, Valgarde is almost literally right beneath Utgarde Keep and the Vrykul are launching a constant attack on the settlement’s gates. Naturally, I have a quest to go kill some of the big lugs, and I do so gladly.
(Random trivia: there are critter-type Turkeys running around Valgarde, and if killed their corpses look like a fully-cooked Thanksgiving bird. I laughed entirely too hard at that the first time I saw it).
Valgarde is filled with interesting characters (many of whom are questgivers): a gnome technician by the name of McGoyver [Pro], for one. There’s also a Draenei shaman seated in a cloud of smoke whom I can only assume is perpetually high to the point where he makes Woodstock seem like a classical Wagnerian opera in comparison. There’s a tough-as-nails officer giving an inspirational speech that seems to boil down to “Don’t suck, or else you will die and become a mindless twisted cursed shell for eternity,” (I’m inspired. Are you inspired? Good, we’re inspired) … and then Tirion Fordring, wielding the Ashbringer.
Wait, wait. Back up a second.
Yes, that’s Tirion Fordring, all right. And yes, that’s unmistakably the Ashbringer in his hands – all 88 DPS worth. Still in level 60 gear, eh, Tirion?
At this point, Ashbringer lore is slightly murkier than the water in the official Venture Company swimming pool, yes. First, its corrupted self was in the undead hands of its former wielder, Highlord Alexandros Mograine, back in Naxxramas. Hints were dropped that Mograine had a second son – unlike the traitorous one hanging out in Scarlet Monastery – who could be found in Outland and cleanse the blade. However, nothing ever really came of that.
In WotLK, there is another Mograine, though he’s not in Outland, and in fact he, like his dad, is one of the Death Knights of the Scourge … and he’s wielding the Corrupted Ashbringer. Not sure how he got it, but eh, not much of a problem there (if you assume it stayed in Naxxramas the entire time during the move to Northrend). Without going into detail to the Death Knight starting quests – yet – the Ashbringer does seem to end up purified and in the hands of Tirion Fordring, Paladin Badass Extraordinare.
Makes sense, right? Fordring gets the cleansed Ashbringer and takes the lengthy boat ride to Valgarde, where he sets up shop and stands around looking cool and intimidating. Sounds fine to me.
Only … one of the beginning Valgarde quest chains revolves around retrieving a sacred artifact and bringing it back to Tirion – or rather, his less-awesome companion – and upon completion of this quest, it’s revealed to be… Ashbringer!
Er, forget all of that. I’ll get to it later and don’t want to spoil the surprise … hm. It may be too late for that, I fear.
I can’t help but wonder how, exactly, the canon will fall regarding Tirion’s acquisition of the blade of the Scarlet Highlord; which of the two paths (or perhaps even more?) they’ll end up going with. Will it feature in Naxx 2.0? Will it ever be an item that players can potentially acquire, or will it be NPC-only until the day the WoW servers shut down (or the final entropy of the universe, whichever comes first)?
Most importantly, how does this all fall into the Xanatos Gambit master scheme of Nat Pagle: master fisherman by day and evil genius supervillain mastermind by night?
Am I asking too many questions?
Find out all the answers next time*, when we continue questing in the Howling Fjord – and have our first face-to-face meeting with some King dude or whatever. I dunno. I think he’s important. Name in the title of the game and all that stuff.
(*Note: May not actually find out all the answers. Or any of the answers.)
See you soon!