Nine Years in Karazhan

Richard Cobbett's latest column for Rock, Paper, Shotgun covers the the launch of the Karazhan zone in World of Warcraft and its recent overhauled return, as part of the latest PTR patch for Blizzard's MMO. A couple of significant excerpts:

Karazhan was the poster-child for this new era… at least for those who could get into it, which wasn’t that easy in an era with attunements but without raid finders, and designed for max level. I remember friendly people from guild I was in at the time actively doing tours of the place so that everyone could see it, but nevertheless, everyone had heard of it. Karazhan. The next generation of World of Warcraft dungeons/raids/whatever. It’s not that those that came before hadn’t offered moments of interest, such as stumbling upon the Grim Guzzler pub in Blackrock Depths, or the pirate ship at the end of Deadmines. For the most part though, World of Warcraft’s dungeons and raids had been a bit… eh… traditional. A big fire cave with a dragon in it. A lot of really big caves. An evil monastery… all very traditional stuff for the game that would later add the likes of the Oculus, the Caverns of Time, a dungeon set on a rolling train, and a piss-up in a brewery. It’s been a long time since Ragefire Chasm.


A lot of familiar faces do show up, and the beginning of the dungeon is very similar. As it goes on though, it becomes clear that once again Karazhan is being used as a bridge between different eras of World of Warcraft. The first version was largely to show the jump from original to The Burning Crusade. This one connects The Burning Crusade, not-entirely-coincidentally the last expansion with a heavy Burning Legion component, with the Warcraft of today.

It’s designed to show the evolution of Blizzard’s design and capabilities with their engine, as well as on a deeper level, the jump from the traditional fantasy that it largely was at launch, give or take a few gnome/dwarf inventions, to the fusion of fantasy and SF that it is today. The final boss in particular is similar to reaching the end of Lord of the Rings and having Sauron show up in a mech suit. That was then. This is now. Karazhan sits on Azeroth’s lay-lines, but more importantly, stands as a demonstration of what Blizzard can do and what it wants to be next. It’s not just a spooky mage’s tower. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, and how much more there is to go before World of Warcraft’s legend finally comes to an end. If the final farewell speeches are at Medivh’s last party, I can’t think of many more fitting ways for it to go out.