A few disclaimers before we move forward:
- Traveling Thoughts is a means of putting down my thoughts in a bit-by-bit process that will eventually lead up to a formal review of the overall subject. These posts will be more personal than objective, though one should expect a good amount of both as is my personality of habit.
- These posts will absolutely contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
If not for strong competition from Tirisfal Glades, this may very well be my favorite starting zone in the entire game. It is, by far, my favorite starting zone from a member of the Alliance.
Something about Azuremyst Isle, along with Eversong Woods (to come soon), is that they have a string of “new bias,” whereas they came in a shiny, brand new expansion—the first one the game had to its name. They were more streamlined, more expansive than any initial starting area that came before, packed with more items to collect, more quests to conquer, and more variety to the experience of adventure. It was more productive than ever before, but also a tad easier, too. All this in mind, how can one possibly argue that it had ever been better?
Difficult, certainly, to argue that with the expanded effort to make the starting area more varied, while also more convenient, all other starting areas are put to shame. However, this post isn’t an argument so much as it is an explanation, and perhaps a personal recollection, of what Azuremyst Isle brings to The Burning Crusade.
The draenei are a people that were expunged from their home planet, only to end up right off the coast of Teldrassil, home island of the night elves. Their entire starting area, in contrast to other races, chronicles the time between the initial crash onto the planet and bringing up the wreckage for the benefit of the race. It’s a plotline that makes the player feel more involved with the tragedy that makes up the race, as opposed to the typical “Proving your strength to serve” that all others embody. For that alone, it makes the starting area feel more important, more integral to get to every part of the map and aid in every facet of Azuremyst Isle’s corruption.
Variation is something that I’ve always found to be important within any aspect of the visual medium. When I play a game, I don’t really want to be doing one thing for an extended period of time; I want something to vary up the experience so that I have a collection of things to look forward to and experience. Going through every other starting zone up to this point, I believe Azuremyst Isle is something of the same path, but with an added efficiency of immersion through storytelling. Its path is much of the same: start somewhere, do quests, travel to an obligatory second major area, do quests there, then do everything one can around there until reaching an adequate level to move on to another zone. What it does in-between is what makes it effective, incorporating a theme of corruption the draenei have to survive, rival blood elves they have to fend off, and exploring a world unlike the race had ever seen. That sense of discovery, both for the player and those within, makes Azuremyst Isle such an alluring experience.
Even better, the things one is required to do aren’t limited to killing and collecting, at least after a certain period. Dozens of quests require something of a more cinematic nature, including following clues set by a totem-wielding race to various parts of the isle, shooting lasers at non-aggro creatures for study, and plenty of quests via dropped item. When I stated before that the developers were more focused on the expansion of the starting zone, Azuremyst Isle embodies that down to a well-formulated science. There’s not much that I can really say to discredit the work put into it. It’s simply great.
And aesthetically, I don’t find much to complain about, either. Azuremyst Isle is perhaps the best example of immersion among the starting zones, both visually and audibly. The vast forests of the isle, accompanied by residual purple and blue auras, gives a very serene, practically other-worldly effect that hints at both peace and melancholy. The gargantuan crystals that are placed through the forests serves as a reminder of the corruption of the area, which turns the creatures hostile and, in some cases, mutates their bodies and minds. It’s little short of beautiful, hampered only by the slightly inadequate power of the game back in the late 2000’s.
Audibly, though, Azuremyst Isle features my favorite background music for the whole of the land mass. The best way to describe it without naming every instrument that accompanies it (of which I’m not 100% sure of) would be to say that it sounds very “indigenous.” A simplicity and lack of technological advances to heighten the score is played to calmly invoke a mood of being far from home. I remember, even way back then when I played this for the first time, being entranced by the musical score of the island. There’s a sense of beauty with the entire creation of the place, but the score is something that stuck with me along with the quests and the feeling of isolation when starting as a draenei survivor.
It is Azuremyst Isle’s credit, in part, that I find myself so fascinated with the draenei. While the area is little more than a circumstantial setting for the draenei’s arrival onto Azeroth, I feel it speaks to a part of the species that wouldn’t fit upon other variations of terrain. I recall reading a description that may have been provided by Blizzard itself that stated the other races of the Alliance finding the draenei “kind of weird,” and that always remained in the back of my head when I played as them. I think Azuremyst Isle is also kind of weird, in that it looks like a general location here in reality, but features uncanny distinctions that immediately label it as alien. Draenei seem to be similar, as apart from the obvious physical differences, their demeanor seems civilized and altruistic. It’s kind of perfect to me.
Whatever may be wrong with this starting zone is such a minuscule issue that it almost seems trivial to speak upon, so all I could bother to do was praise it almost wholeheartedly. It clicks with me in almost every aspect, and provides an experience unlike any other starting zone within the game up to this expansion. I like Tirisfal Glades a lot, which makes it harder to say that Azuremyst Isle is my favorite starting zone. If held at gunpoint, I would probably concede that it is, but I’m a Horde at heart, so it’d be said with hesitation. Nevertheless, Azuremyst Isle ended up being a phenomenal debut to The Burning Crusade; one that I will never forget. After all, I still remember Moborro, the first draenei I ever made—a paladin I got up to the high twenties in level.
For more posts on this topic, feel free to check out the accompanying archive!
Thank you for your time. Have a great day.